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Pretoria - Between 200 and 300 cancer patients are on the waiting list for oncology treatment at Steve Biko Academic Hospital and now the hospital faces legal action for its failure to provide this treatment timeously.
The hospital has been beset by problems, with some patients on long waiting lists for radiation and other life-saving treatment and a backlog of 3 151 patients waiting for surgical procedures.
Gauteng Health MEC Hope Papo has as much as admitted that health care at the hospital has been compromised because of patient numbers, staff shortages and the intermittent breakdown of vital equipment.
He confirmed to the provincial legislature that the three-month waiting period for cancer patients was steadily increasing, explaining in a written reply that with an additional 30 to 40 referrals a week, the backlog just kept growing.
In response to the questions from the DA, Papo said the hospital’s 21 theatres were never fully operational, with only 15 to 17 a day being in use.
Campaign for Cancer’s Lauren Pretorius said the department had failed to resolve the problems and for the past 18 months had not provided appropriate cancer treatment. She said that after endless discussions, it appeared court action might be inevitable “to properly advance the constitutional rights of access to health care of patients”.
Papo said the hospital had lost close to 600 hours of machine-delivered cancer treatment in the first nine months of the year, and had suffered intermittent drug shortages and lacked skilled staff. Equipment breakdowns and overcrowding had compromised the care and treatment it could offer.
The hospital’s delivery of health care has been beset by problems for years, with staff describing the situation as dire.
Linen shortages, lack of maintenance, and shortages of consumables and theatre features have been cited as reasons for turning patients away from theatre. Last year, the hospital’s budget of R1.3 billion was cut by R46 million.
According to Papo, service demand far outweighed the capacity and resources of the hospital.
He told the legislature that the inability of hospitals in Mpumalanga and Limpopo to meet their obligations placed “further, unfunded demand” on the limited resources of the hospital.
“A shortage of theatre-qualified professional nurses, as well as anaesthesiologists, limits theatre time,” Papo said.
He also blamed problems on the high number of trauma cases received each day, saying these competed with elective procedures for theatre time and intensive care unit beds.
Among causes of deferred operations, Papo cited the lack of reagents for blood gas machines; incomplete assessments of patients; unavailability of beds; inadequate air conditioning; and, the need to reallocate theatre time for other procedures.
DA health spokesman Jack Bloom said a better budget was needed to keep the key hospital running.
He said: “I would suggest a partnership with the private health sector to drastically cut the surgery backlogs to a more reasonable level.”
Hospital chief executive Dr Ernest Kenoshi told the Pretoria News that he did not know where the figure of 3 151 patients waiting for surgery had come from, adding that the numbers on the theatre lists changed all the time.
He said the high number of trauma cases due to motor vehicle accidents and interpersonal trauma was to blame for the huge demand for surgical procedures at the hospital, as was the case throughout the country.
He also blamed a high reliance on the public sector arising from the cost of private health care.
He was unable to provide the latest figures or comment on the other issues raised at the time of going to press.