The Sunday Tribune reported last week that Nelson Narasamulu Govender was told he would have to wait six months to receive radiation therapy to reduce the size of two tumours.
On Friday, the last oncologist in Durban left the public health sector when she resigned. This placed the hospital, which sees 80% of KZN’s cancer patients, in a fresh crisis.
From next week, there will be no oncologists at the hospital.
Along with Nelson Govender, there were thousands of others on the waiting list to receive treatment. The desperate pleas of Govender’s daughter, Shireen Chetty, for help were ignored and she was told that there were no oncologists left to treat him.
Chetty said she hoped her father’s case would highlight just how serious the crisis is and that other patients would not have to endure what he endured.
The Department of Health said it was implementing an interim plan to provide treatment and called on oncologists in the province to meet, and to let it know how much of their time they can provide.
“This is while we are recruiting for replacements. Oncologists and radiotherapists from the private sector will provide oncology services at the public health facilities. The head of the clinical unit at Grey’s Hospital oncology unit will oversee the management of patients at this hospital as well as at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital in the meantime,” said KZN department of health spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi.
He said oncologists and radiotherapists from the Hopelands Oncology Clinic would also assist with communication between its clinic and the hospital.
Organisations such as the SA Medical Association and the Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa have condemned the crisis, calling for urgent intervention.
Meanwhile, on social media, doctors have reacted to the crisis, saying they should not be blamed for leaving the public health sector.
An oncologist who recently left shared her sentiments.
“Wow, so now we are blaming the doctors? There are doctors who have had no desire to ever work in private, and decisions to leave are never taken lightly. But when working in an environment that is truly awful, it gets you to a point that you would rather quit medicine totally than continue working in such conditions. Don’t you think it’s about time to save yourself?
“DOH has directly contributed to doctor burnout and exodus, and they have paid lip service to the problems. The rest of the time they can’t be bothered. So no, stop blaming doctors, and do something to get the DOH replaced with people that are actually interested in sorting out the mess at KZN Health,” said the doctor.
National Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has also intervened in the matter and said he found it irritating.
Motsoaledi sent four directors-general from the national health department to KwaZulu-Natal this week to compile a report on the oncology crisis and also met KZN Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo in Cape Town.
“Why is it that this problem is only in KZN and nowhere else in the country? There has to be a reason as to why oncologists are only leaving this province. I also do not think that we can place blame on the doctors.
“I’m awaiting a report on this matter and we’ll hopefully establish the reasons for this crisis. In the meantime, we are doing our best to deal with it,” said Motsoaledi.