KZN Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo. File picture

Durban - Calls are mounting for KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo to be held accountable for the crisis at the provincial health department, with the recent suspension of the department head Dr Sifiso Mtshali being described as “scapegoating”.

Dr Mzukisi Grootboom, the South African Medical Association (SAMA) chairman, said: “While we support the view that officials, including doctors and senior managers be held accountable for service delivery, we believe the healthcare problems in the province predate the appointment of Dr Mtshali and his suspension is nothing else but scapegoating."

In a statement released on Thursday, Grootboom said SAMA was concerned about the suspension of Mtshali over the collapse of the health system in the province, in particular the province’s oncology services.

SAMA’s call follows that of the Democratic Alliance (DA) earlier this week, when the party’s provincial health spokesman Dr Imran Keeka said: “KZN’s oncology and other health crises did not happen overnight. They also did not happen under Dr Mtshali’s watch alone. The common denominator is MEC (Sibongiseni) Dhlomo. While the DA acknowledges the premier’s right to hold officials accountable, it is very clear that Dr Mtshali is the latest scapegoat to take responsibility for a political bungle.”

It was a line that Grootboom echoed. “If Dr Mtshali is to be held accountable in this way, then his political leaders, the MEC for Health in KZN, as well the current and previous premiers should, similarly, also be held accountable.”

The KwaZulu-Natal Health department has been under fire since the South African Human Rights Commission published a damning report on the state of oncology services in the province, especially with respect to two state-of-the-art cancer radiotherapy machines at Durban’s Addington Hospital.

The machines have for most of the time that they were installed in 2010 either not worked at all or been non-functional. They worked for the first year after installation when a company called Tecmed maintained the machines as part of the one-year warranty agreement.

However, by April 2013, the machines had shut down after the department refused to pay the maintenance contract, alleging that Tecmed had committed corruption. A seven-year investigation has never made it to court and Tecmed has never been charged.

In 2016, the African News Agency (ANA) published an investigative report that revealed that Dr Mtshali had signed a maintenance contract for the Addington machines with KZN Oncology Inc. in a deal that literally broke every rule of how government departments are legally required to procure services.

Since the 2015 contract, only one machine has been in operation intermittently and neither has worked since November 2016.

Earlier this year, Dhlomo and national health minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi announced that a deal had been done with Varian to maintain all machines in the province that they had manufactured. It is not immediately clear whether a contract has in fact been signed with the US-based manufacturer.

Dr Nkanyiso Zwane, the sole director and chief executive of KZN Oncology Inc, shortly afterwards sought an interdict against the department from implementing any agreement because it claimed there was a legally binding contract with it. The matter is still before the courts.

The DA has accused the department of being responsible for the deaths of scores of patients by failing to offer them timeous treatment.