Human Rights Commission decries serious lack of KZN cancer care
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KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo will have to explain the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of cancer patients who were left to die without having received any treatment at all.
A damning report by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), released yesterday, revealed that cancer patients at government facilities in KZN have to wait at least five months before they get to see an oncologist.
The report reveals that if cancer radiotherapy is the recommended course of treatment, patients admitted to a KZN Health Department hospital will have to wait a further eight months - meaning that it will be 13 months from diagnosis before a patient receives cancer radiotherapy.
The provincial Health Department has seen an exodus of experienced oncologists ever since it decided not to pay a maintenance contract for two state-of-the-art cancer radiotherapy machines at its Addington Hospital in Durban in 2012.
First to quit after 30 years of service was Professor Amo Jordaan, the head of oncology who was instrumental in obtaining the two Varian Rapid Arc Linear Accelerators, which cost R120million to install at Addington. The two machines had brought waiting periods for radiotherapy down from five months to two weeks.
International guidelines recommend that patients receive treatment within 28 days.
The SAHRC has ordered the department to immediately repair the two machines and clear the existing backlog of treatment - how it will do this is unclear, given that the department no longer has any oncologists in Durban and only two in Pietermaritzburg.
The SAHRC report follows a complaint that was lodged February last year by DA health spokesman Dr Imran Keeka. The four respondents to the complaint are Dhlomo, Addington Hospital, Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital (IALC) and the KZN Department of Health, headed by Dr Sifiso Mtshali.
According to the report, the provincial Health Department sees about 2500 patients annually. How many of those failed to get to see an oncologist or cancer radiotherapy treatment timeously is not known.
The SAHRC also recommended that an investigation be conducted by the Health Ombudsman and that KZN Premier Willies Mchunu determine whether “the MEC (Dhlomo) as the accountable authority has responded adequately in the provision of interim, short term and long-term measures in the performance of all functions of the executive that the constitution and legal frameworks assign to him”.
The investigation saw the SAHRC team visit both hospitals, speaking to staff and patients. None of the staff were prepared to be named, out of fear of victimisation and only one of the patients that the SAHRC team spoke to were prepared to be named.