CT scanner shortage puts lives at risk
Durban - There is a growing crisis at government hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal where vital CT scan machines are not being serviced, have broken down, or not been acquired.
Two independent sources, who did not want to be named, claimed that repeated appeals by district managers, area managers, area chief executives, medical managers of major hospitals and the radiology heads of eThekwini government hospitals, had failed to produce results.
“We have raised the issues of delays in supply chain management, non-existent radiology equipment service contracts and other concerns, repeatedly,” said the sources.
“Promises are made by the KZN Department of Health, and then the goalposts are shifted and the promises are not kept.”
The source said problems had been growing since 2011 and, at Nkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital – regarded as one of the finest in KwaZulu-Natal – radiologists were hopelessly overburdened.
He said that because there was no service contract in place at the RK Khan Hospital, and problems with CT machinery there, staff at Nkosi Albert Luthuli were processing far more patients than they could deal with.
“There is a huge requirement for imaging,” he said. “With the additional inpatient demand our waiting time for a CT scan has increased from the usual 24 to 48 hours, to an unacceptable five to 10 days.
“Outpatients have to wait as long as four-and-a-half months before we can help them.”
On June 9, in a meeting with representatives of the KZN Department of Health, the heads of radiology departments in the province again stressed that the situation was, as the source termed it, “catastrophic” for patients whose health depended on the early detection of disease through CT scans.
Radiologists stressed at the meeting that they could no longer take up the slack caused by broken or ill-maintained CT equipment, and immediate intervention strategies were called for by senior medical officials of the health department.
The Sunday Tribune was told that at Addington Hospital only brain scans were currently being done due to malfunctioning equipment, and that there was no service contract in place for CT machinery.
At RK Khan there were similar problems, and again only brain scans were being done.
The CT scanning equipment at King Edward and Stanger hospitals has, according to the sources, been broken for the past 18 months and repeated promises to replace the machinery had come to nothing.
At Ngwelezane Hospital, Empangeni, the machines broke down regularly, and were currently not working, leading radiologists to refer patients to Grey’s Hospital in Pietermaritzburg.
In response to questions from the Sunday Tribune, health spokesman Agiza Hlongwane said that Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo had addressed most of the concerns of radiologists and senior hospital personnel regarding the problems with CT scanning machinery, in his 2015/16 budget speech, delivered in mid-May.
The minister had said the department was engaged in implementing a series of interventions to improve the quality of services.”
Dhlomo said these included:
* Buying four new CT scanners for King Edward VIII, Stanger, Addington and Grey’s hospitals. He said that installation was anticipated to be completed next month (July) and that priority would be accorded to Addington and Stanger hospitals.
* The KZN Department of Health planned to open four more health technology services satellite workshops, at Edendale, Newcastle, Madadeni and Ladysmith hospitals, “to improve timeous repairs”.
Dhlomo said the Madadeni workshop was functional, with two on-site technicians. At Edendale and Newcastle hospitals the project was in the commissioning phase, and a satellite workshop was being established in the Ladysmith region.
* He said plans to install the so-called “Lodox” equipment project, to ensure that all gunshot victims were X-rayed prior to post mortems being done on their remains, remained a priority.
This was on the cards for the mortuaries at Phoenix, Gale Street, Prince Mshiyeni and Richards Bay.
* Mobile C-arms for CT scanning equipment were being procured to be used for diagnostic procedures involving orthopaedic cases in wards where critically ill patients could not be moved to the main X-ray unit, Dhlomo said. The arms would be acquired for use at Ladysmith, St Andrews, Stanger and King Edward VIII hospitals; 12 mobile “Bucky” X-ray units were to be acquired for Addington; Bethesda; Charles Johnson Memorial; Edendale; GJ Crookes; Grey’s; King Edward VIII; Ladysmith; Mseleni; Umphumulo; Ntunjambili; and Wentworth Hospitals.
“The MEC is of the view that the department has done the procurement, and it is now up to the suppliers to fulfil their end of the bargain by delivering,” said Hlongwane.