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Durban - The saga of Addington Hospital’s on-again, off-again radiotherapy machines is well known, but for two Durban families, the pain it caused hit home.
Gayna Ontong, 63, lost her husband of 13 years, Keith, last year to cancer and said they faced long delays and queues because of problems at the hospital’s oncology unit.
Ontong said her husband developed cancer in 2012 and it rapidly got worse.
“The cancer was on the outside, it was eating his neck away,” she told the Daily News on Wednesday.
“We did not have money for private radiation therapy,” she said, so they had to go to public hospitals instead - first to RK Khan Hospital in Chatsworth, where they were referred to Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital.
There they also found long queues, hearing from doctors that this was because others had also been sent there from Addington, whose radiation therapy linear accelerator had broken down again.
Ontong said she was told by doctors at Albert Luthuli that her husband would not be able to get the help he needed in time.
She described the ongoing problems with the treatment machines at Addington as “ridiculous”.
Both chemotherapy and radiation therapy patients from Addington Hospital were at Inkosi Albert Luthuli, she said.
“We were devastated with everything… I have no faith in government hospitals whatsoever.”
She said the experience had been traumatic for her and her son, because her husband had experienced a lot of pain before he died.
Despite his pain, her husband had always tried to keep her and others in high spirits, she said.
“Keith was a person who was always up and wanted to keep the spirits of the people around him up despite the fact that he was going through excruciating pain. I was with him all the time; in the end he could not even walk,” she said.
Jean van Aswegen said she had been receiving radiation therapy at Addington when the linear accelerator machine broke down in December.
This caused a four-day delay in her treatment.
She said she was not given referrals to other hospitals at the time. Van Aswegen said the government should invest more money in hospitals.
The national spokeswoman for the Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa), Michelle Connolly, said: “Our feeling is that the hospital and Department of Health are not doing enough. It is a human rights issue.”
She said Hospersa had contacted the South African Human Rights Commission to investigate the matter. This was based on a damning letter to the commission by Professor Amo Jordaan, a former head of the oncology department at Addington Hospital.
In the letter Jordaan said: “This abuse of human rights, abuse of patient rights and abuse of health care is serious. Patients are suffering and may die.
“Certainly the cancer is advancing while awaiting treatment to commence.” Connolly said a task team should be set up to investigate the state of health affairs in KwaZulu-Natal.
She also recommended that the department “sort out the issues with the people who provide the services for the machine”.
The human rights commission has promised to follow up on the matter.