Being unable to access treatment is taking a toll on cancer patients who can't fill their prescriptions, while pain control is also an issue.
Cancer doctors from the currently shuttered Charlotte Maxeke Hospital have urged their patients who have been struggling to get treatment to visit Chris Baragwanath Hospital (Bara) in Soweto, even without an appointment.
This follows the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa) and the Hospice Palliative Care Association (HPCA) urging government to assist patients who are caught in the chaos of the hospital closure and are struggling to get the help they need.
Around 35 patients have contacted Cansa reporting various challenges they have faced since the hospital was closed, including deteriorating health.
The academic hospital was partially shut down two months ago after it was gutted by a fire which broke out inside a storage room.
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Though the Gauteng health department has moved Charlotte Maxeke’s oncology department to Barafvar, patients have been struggling to communicate with doctors, fill subscriptions, and access treatment.
Oncology clinics, both radiation and medical oncology, were able to access some of the patient records and services at Steve Biko Hospital in Pretoria for radiation oncology and Bara for medical oncology.
Dr Urooge Haq, a medical officer in internal medicine at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital’s Oncology department suspects the issue boils down to a breakdown in communication.
“I am not sure if its a matter of misunderstanding … For instance I know there have been complaints about the helplines not working and that sort of thing but, all of the patients of the oncology clinic have been moved to Bara.”
The whole Charlotte Maxeke Hospital oncology team is now based in and helping patients everyday of the week at the provincial hospital in Soweto.
“We have been at Bara now for a while and I know that a lot of communication lines are not functioning or people are just struggling to reach us, but it would be good to let people know that we are at Bara everyday of the week and if you are unable to get communication, you can just come in,” Haq said.
According to Jacqui Kaye, chief executive officer (CEO) of HospiceWits, the group has received quite a few calls from patients “left in the lurch” after the closure of Charlotte Maxeke.
“Most of these patients are non-malignant cases looking for help and support and even medication. These are not really Hospice cases. The families become desperate and are in need of medical support. We have probably registered about five oncology patients who were having treatment at the hospital, mostly for homecare.”
Most of the oncology patients have had to be referred to the Helen Joseph or Chris Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. HospiceWits is especially concerned for the non-malignant cases as they are not receiving the help that they need.
Cansa alone has received between 30 and 35 enquiries through the Cansa help desk.
Patients and their families have raised the following concerns and are worried about a number of pressing issues including:
The physical and emotional effect of not being able to access their treatment is taking a toll on their already weakened immune systems. Patients are struggling to fill their prescriptions and pain control is becoming a major issue.
ALSO READ: No sign of reopening Charlotte Maxeke Hospital
“We are struggling to get medical reports completed by Charlotte Maxeke Hospital doctors for patients requesting palliative care from our organisation and this is severely hampering their access to our care. It is a dire situation and compounds the negative effect of patients already trying to cope with a potentially life-threatening illness.”
According to Zodwa Sithole, head of advocacy for Cansa, the NPO has been inundated by calls from desperate people whose families can no longer access the care that they need from Charlotte Maxeke Hospital.
“Cansa commends the Gauteng government for being responsive with the cases the NPO routinely brings to its attention but urges that more be done to put patients at ease. There needs to be more assistance to meet the needs of both diagnosed patients and patients who are not able to do their cancer screening.
“Patients are anxious as they experiencing delays in their treatment and many need assistance with pain management, stoma and wound care,” says Sithole.
“What we need is for the hospital to be open. If there is improved communication in terms of contacting the patients to see how far they are and what is happening, that would be the main issue. The patients and families are also worried.”
For patients or families of patients find your closest hospice by visiting https://hpca.co.za/province/gauteng/.
Cansa: Visit www.cansa.org.za or call Cansa Help Desk toll-free 0800-22-66-22 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to online resources and Facebook support groups, Cansa offers multi-lingual support on WhatsApp: 072-197-9305 for English and Afrikaans and 071-867-3530 for isiXhosa, isiZulu, siSwati, Sesotho and Setswana and free Tele Counselling per appointment on 0800-22-66-22 in English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa, isiZulu, siSwati, Sesotho and Setswana. For media queries, please contact Lucy Balona on 082-459-5230
HospiceWits: They are willing and able to register oncology patients with hospitals where appropriate and offer Palliative support – call 011-483-9100.
Hospice East Rand: They are willing and able to offer Palliative support to patients residing on the East Rand. Hospice does not offer chemo or radiation treatments, for these, registration with a hospital can be facilitated – call (011) 422 1531.
Enquiries can be directed to the Gauteng Citizen Relationship Hotline as well. Their number is 0800-228-827 or 0800-428-8364.
Send the details of the patients and that will be escalate to the HODs of the oncology units or email to email@example.com.
If patients can provide the hospital number (i.e number on the blue card starting with GT) that will help track their treatment schedule.
Gauteng department of health promised to follow up and get back to the patient.