The Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa said on Tuesday that it was “appalled” at the state of cancer treatment in the KwaZulu-Natal health department.
“Hospersa is outraged by the appalling state of cancer treatment services in the KwaZulu-Natal province,” the union’s secretary Noel Desfontaines said in a statement.
“On the eve of World Cancer Day the union again received disturbing reports regarding various problems with cancer treatment at public health institutions in Durban and Pietermaritzburg. The key problems are serious shortages of skilled staff and radiation machines that are out of order.”
He said the union could only speculate as to how many people had died unnecessarily as a result of non-functioning machinery and staff shortages.
He said that even though there were key breakthroughs in cancer treatment globally, cancer treatment at South Africa’s public health facilities was deteriorating.
“Hospersa members reported that the conditions at oncology treatment centres in KZN are horrible, and that many of them face real ethical dilemmas on a daily basis when they see how cancer patients must suffer.”
Desfontaines commented on recent media reports that that revealed that two state-of-the art cancer radiotherapy machines at Durban’s Addington Hospital have not been in continuous working order since the end of 2012.
In December last year, ANA reported on a lack of staff and the fact that the machines had not been working since early November. On Sunday, the Sunday Tribune newspaper also reported on the lack of cancer treatment facilities available as well as the lack of oncologists in the department as well as the long waiting times experienced by cancer patients.
“Much of this is reported to be because of poor management and even alleged corruption. The corruption relates to the procurement of maintenance services for the machines, where the authorised provider was turned down in favour of a local company which is believed to have links with senior government officials.”
In December 2015, the KwaZulu-Natal head of the health department Dr Sifiso Mtshali signed a contract with KZN Oncology Inc to maintain the machines, despite the fact that the company was not the authorized agent for the manufacturers of the machines.
Desfontaines said that often poor management and corruption at state facilities went hand-in-hand.
“Corruption is something that calls for compromised decision-making because there is an ulterior motive – money. It then comes to the surface as poor management and often remains that until the corruption is revealed,” he said.
“One of the worst effects of corruption relates directly to its root cause – greed,” continued Desfontaines. “Greed causes people to take from others, and in public health it means that they literally take life from the most vulnerable people – the old, the sick and the downtrodden.”
He said that staff with the necessary skills to carry out their jobs would quit if they were not provided with the right tools.
“This becomes a vicious circle when oncologists resign due to the terrible circumstances they are expected to work under. The net effect is that once a patient is diagnosed with cancer, he or she can literally die before receiving treatment. This is totally unacceptable,” said Desfontaines.
He warned that about 85% of KwaZulu-Natal’s population were dependent on the state for health facilities.
“If the equipment is broken and we don’t have enough staff, this becomes impossible. This is truly a crisis and something needs to be done, fast,” Desfontaines added.
He said that the union had expressed its horror over the deaths of 94 mentally ill patients as a result of poor decision making by the officials of the Gauteng Health department.
“In this case [of cancer patients not receiving treatment] the deaths tend to stay under the radar,” said Desfontaines.
“One can only speculate as to the number of patients who lost their battle against cancer due to the negligence of the KwaZulu-Natal health department. We have never seen official communication on reducing waiting times for treatment or actual figures regarding five-year survival rates. The reason for this silence seems to be obvious,” he said.
– African News Agency