Plea to switch on cancer machines

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Durban - Both the DA and Nehawu on Thursday urged the KwaZulu-Natal provincial health department to switch on two state of the art cancer radiotherapy machines at Durban's Addington Hospital.

The maintenance contract for the two has not been paid by the department for the past 11 months.

Zola Saphetha, the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union's KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary, said the union could see no reason why the machines should not be operating.

“Those machines have done nothing. The people who have to be treated by them have done nothing wrong,” he said.

KwaZulu-Natal MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and the head of the KwaZulu-Natal health department Dr Sibongile Zungu have previously said there had been corruption in the R120 million tender to install the two machines.

Saphetha said the union had written to both Dhlomo and the KwaZulu-Natal premier over supply chain management issues in the department, including the issue surrounding the two machines.

“We have asked for an investigation into this and other irregularities. The MEC and the premier must institute investigations on supply chain management.”

He said the outcome of any investigations needed to be known and that the union was also calling for Zungu's removal from her position.

“Her actions make us doubt her ability,” he said.

He said the union also had concerns over the number of senior positions where senior staff had been suspended.

He referred to the suspension of the department's chief financial officer Mashaka Ravhura, the suspension of KwaZulu-Natal health department security manager Madoda Mpinda, the department's human resources manager Nozipho Mthembu as well as supply manager Andile Zondo.

The DA's health spokesman Dr Imran Keeka urged Dhlomo to address the issues.

“The current situation at Addington, and other major Durban hospitals which serve patients across the province, is scandalous,” he said.

On Saturday, Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union (Hospersa) spokeswoman Michelle Connolly said there was a six-month backlog.

At that stage one of the machines was working, but the other stopped working on Wednesday.

The two machines, named Nguni and Nkandla, have safety features that shut themselves down if they are not serviced properly.

There is only one other machine like these two in the country.

Werner Bergere, the chief executive of Tecmed which is responsible for servicing the machines, confirmed over the weekend that the contract had not been paid for the past 11 months.

He said there had been several promises to pay. “Nothing has ever materialised,” Bergere said.

It is not the first time payment issues relating to the maintenance of the two machines made headlines.

Early last year, Tecmed refused to service them after having not been paid for nine months.

At the time MEC Dhlomo said the department had suspended its contract with Tecmed, claiming the company had obtained the tender fraudulently.

Two charges had been lodged with police in Pietermaritzburg in May and July 2010.

In May 2013, Dhlomo said the investigations were at an advanced stage and that a forensic investigation was being carried out by the audit firm Ernst and Young.

Department spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi said on Thursday again that the investigations were at an advanced stage, but did not provide any other details.

To date Tecmed has never been charged and it is not clear what became of either investigation.

Dhlomo also said at the time that payments would be resumed on a month to month basis pending the outcome of investigations, as well as negotiations with Varian, the manufacturer of the machines, called Varian Rapid Arc Linear Accelerators.

According to Bergere the department paid the previous backlog, but has not paid since the machines were restarted.

The machines in Durban were installed by Tecmed in 2010 after it was awarded a R120 million tender, which included a R33m maintenance contract over five years. The maintenance contract was later reduced to R26m.

By the time the machines first stopped working at the end of 2012, Addington's oncology department, which receives patients from across the province, had cut its waiting time for treatment from eight months to two weeks.


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