The Democratic Alliance is considering bringing criminal charges against KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC, Sibongiseni Dhlomo, who was singled out by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for his role in the collapse of the province’s oncology services.
A SAHRC report released on Monday — which asked Dhlomo’s department to provide data on how many people died due to the crisis — found that both the national and provincial health departments “failed to take reasonable measures to progressively realise the right to have access to healthcare services in the KZN province”.
The damning report revealed that cancer patients at government facilities had to wait at least five months before seeing oncologists and, if cancer radiotherapy was recommended, they would have to wait a further eight months.
The report followed a complaint lodged in February last year by DA KZN health spokesman Imran Keeka, against Dhlomo, Addington Hospital, Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital (IALC) and the KwaZulu-Natal health department, whose HOD is Sifiso Mtshali.
The DA has called on Premier Willies Mchunu to fire Dhlomo “for allowing the Department to deteriorate into such a disastrous state and allowing hundreds of cancer patients to be compromised”.
“We are considering pressing charges [against the MEC and HOD]. We have given the [report] to our federal leadership to investigate that possibility,” Keeka told African News Agency (ANA) on Monday evening.
Keeka said a general legal opinion he sought indicated there was a case to be answered but that they were seeking further clarity as to what legislation had been violated.
The SAHRC report found that Dhlomo violated sections of the Constitution and other legislation, such as the National Health Act.
Keeka said the independent opinion that he received indicated that Dhlomo and his HOD could be charged with culpable homicide.
“For us to proceed as a party we need to get opinion. That doesn’t stop people affected from laying that kind of charge or for people to bring civil cases of that nature against the MEC and his department,” said Keeka.
“I would encourage people to stand up for their rights. If people feel that is what is due to them, I would encourage them to stand up. If they don’t stand up, they give up their right.”
The province’s health department has come under severe criticism for the state of its hospitals and cancer equipment. Earlier this month it was reported that the department’s last remaining state-paid oncologists in Durban had resigned while there was only one remaining in Pietermaritzburg.
Much of the current crisis can be traced back to 2012 when the department refused to pay a maintenance contract for two high-tech cancer treatment machines known as Varian Rapid Arc Linear Accelerators at Addington Hospital. This led to the hospital’s then head of oncology resigning and the maintenance contract being cancelled by the supplier.
The SAHRC ordered the department to immediately repair the two machines and clear the existing backlog of treatment and also recommended that Dhlomo be investigated by the health ombudsman and Mchunu to determine if Dhlomo was accountable and responded adequately to the crisis.
In a written response to ANA on Monday, the Premier’s office said that a meeting had taken place at the end of May between the premier, Dhlomo, Mtshali, MEC for Finance Belinda Scott, and other senior officials from Treasury in order to “find a long lasting solution to challenges faced by the Department of Health”.
The Premier’s spokesperson, Ndabezinhle Sibiya, said that as an outcome of the meeting, senior officials from Treasury were assigned to work with the department of health “to turn around the situation”.
Sibiya ignored a question asking if the Premier was happy with Dhlomo’s performance but said “there are challenges” relating to “finance, supply chain management, procurement in general [and the] shortage of health professionals” specifically in oncology services.
“We can also indicate that the Premier and His Executive Council will study the [SAHRC] report and then formulate a comprehensive report regarding how to best implement the recommendations which will be approved by Cabinet,” said Sibiya.