The KwaZulu-Natal health department has welcomed an SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) probe into complaints about its decision to stop operating two radiotherapy machines at Addington Hospital in Durban.

Durban - Doctors at Addington Hospital, one of the biggest teaching hospitals in the country, are being forced to practise substandard medicine, exposing themselves and the hospital to possible legal action from patients and their aggrieved families.

This is according to a desperate letter written by the head of the hospital’s surgery unit, Dr Masee Naidoo, to its acting chief executive, Thabisile Sakyi.

In the letter, Naidoo asks why, six months after the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health appointed a task team to look into Addington’s problems, “we are still scavenging for needles, swabs and syringes”.

In the letter, he says doctors are working without “the necessary essential medical items” and delays in getting patients to theatre are resulting in “avoidable complications” and “deterioration of patients’ health conditions”.

Among the issues he raises are:

- Operating theatres that are too hot, making sepsis a problem.

- Limited theatre availability, leading to delays.

- Doctors managing patients without the necessary essential medical items.

- Doctors exposing themselves to potential legal action.

In the letter , he pleads with the hospital’s management to ensure that all its medical personnel are indemnified from any legal action.

To make his point, he says he has experienced problems from a patient’s family, who were advised to “institute medical action”.

The struggling hospital has been beset by problems. In October its new chief executive, Dr Kobus Kotze, quit after just three days. Last month, the health department confirmed that some doctors and pharmacy staff had been suspended, on full salary, pending an investigation.

Naidoo said he recently wrote a letter to the provincial health department’s head, Sibongile Zungu, expressing “displeasure” at a statement made to journalists in which she laid “the blame at our feet when the problem is clearly an administrative one; we simply do not have the necessary tools to work with”.

We have toiled for an entire year with the problem hanging over our heads, you would think that it would have been resolved by now,” he said.

“In the six months that we have had an alleged task team deployed at Addington, what have they achieved?” he asked.

When contacted for comment, Naidoo said he was “intrigued” by how his letter had come to The Mercury. He confirmed sending it but said it was not for intended for public consumption.

Health portfolio committee chairwoman Lydia Johnson said she could not comment on the letter as she had not heard the other side of the story.

Jacob Mphatswe, the SA Medical Association’s provincial chairman, said: “We are aware of the problems at Addington and the head of department (Zungu) promised to intervene two months ago.” He added that nothing had been done since Kotze left. The association was scheduled to meet Zungu next month, he said.

A department spokesman said it would comment on Monday. - The Mercury