Almost 8 000 cancer patients waiting for treatment – DA KZN

Imran Keeka says Premier Willies Mchunu is still sitting on his hands on this matter

#KZNOncologyCrisisContinues: Almost 8 000 cancer patients waiting for treatment

27 September 2018

A report on the Investment Case for Radiation Oncology in South Africa (see here), recently presented to the National Health Council, has revealed that KwaZulu-Natal has the biggest backlog of cancer patients awaiting treatment in the entire country.

The report – a follow-up to the National Cancer Strategic Framework and National audit in 2017 and compiled by facility managers – shows statistics as at end December 2017 and also highlights non-functional equipment and inadequate staffing at cancer treatment centres. The Investment Case Report also outlines the demand for radiation oncology services, current supply constraints, the cost burden and compromise on care as a result of delayed treatment, the gaps in human resource and equipment capabilities and recommendations for financing.

In terms of the backlog in KZN, the numbers are horrific with almost 8 000 cancer patients waiting for treatment at the province’s three leading oncology hospitals. By far the worst is Inkhosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital (IALCH) where there is a backlog of 6 012 patients. This is followed by 1 932 at Addington Hospital and a further 132 at Greys.

Then there are the prolonged waiting times for radiation oncology which, in KZN, hospitals, currently exceeds the recommended waiting times of 6 – 8 weeks. These include;

IALH with a 24 – 26 week wait for radical treatment and an 8 – 12 week wait for gynaecology and prostate related cancer treatment.  At the Human Rights Commission hearing, the figure given under oath by KZN Health MEC, Sibongiseni Dhlomo amd his department was up to 12 months.  This is even worse.

Grey’s Hospital with a 1 – 36 week [or nine months] waiting period for MTD or new patients, a 28 week wait for gynaecology related cancers and a 36 week wait for prostate cancer

It is not understood why Addington Hospital did not report on the backlogs unless it was added into the data of IALCH.

The DA is deeply disturbed by these findings. In June last year, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) – acting on our complaint – found MEC Dhlomo guilty of violating the rights of KZN’s cancer patients to adequate treatment. Despite numerous recommendations by the SAHRC since then, accompanied by ongoing reassurances by both the MEC and his Department that the situation has improved, it appears that very little has changed.

The same Report also shows that the average number of new radiation oncology patients during the period 2013/14 – 2106/2017 at each hospital were as follows;

Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital: 1 517

Addington: 594

Greys: 1 169

In spite of these huge numbers, there are also only two full time oncologists in eThekwini.  Grey's hospital is now left with only three oncologists following the resignation of one doctor earlier this year.  Other oncologists are on temporary contracts following a recommendation by the SAHRC to enter into Public Private Partnerships [PPP's].  The DA is of the view that these temporary contracts do not completely satisfy this directive of the SAHRC.

What these statistics tell us is that, under the current circumstances, MEC Dhlomo and his Department provide no hope of addressing the lack of treatment and the resulting suffering of thousands of people. They also tell us that the ongoing publicity stunts aimed at bolstering the MEC and his Department’s image when it comes to this human rights atrocity are no more than lies.

A recent visit by the DA and the National Health portfolio committee to Addington found that only one of the hospital’s two oncology LINAC machines was in use because there were not enough staff to operate the second one.  This is yet another indictment against MEC Dhlomo and his Department.

In stark contrast, the DA-led Western Cape Department of Health [WCH] has 16 oncologists in two facilities, all the equipment works and waiting times are within the acceptable norms. The surgical departments also have equipment that works with the result that there are almost no treatment backlogs. The Department also has seventeen oncology registrars in training in that province and recently trained one of our province’s oncologists after KZN lost its accreditation to train specialists in this area.

Meanwhile, the DA's Our Health Plan [OHP] provides for a properly funded healthcare solution for South Africa that is deliverable within five to seven years.  This can be done within the current fiscal framework or purse.  There will be no need to increase VAT or levy the population into further poverty as is possibly envisaged to roll out the ANC's ill-fated National Health Insurance. The DA’s OHP also has mechanisms in place to improve medical education and alleviate the shortage of personnel required for a functional healthcare system.

It is clear that urgent intervention is required to turn the situation around in KZN, yet Premier Willies Mchunu is still sitting on his hands.  He can no longer tell us that there is a high level intervention team in place to turn KZN’s Health Department around after the Auditor-General’s recent comment to the province’s Health Portfolio Committee that this intervention team is not yielding the desired outcomes.

To add to the problem, the recent hostage situation within the Department has halted the work of this team.  The AG's office also told the committee that while the Department’s leadership continually commits to improving matters, these promises never come to fruition.

Why the Premier has not yet fired MEC Dhlomo- when there has been so much suffering and death on his watch - is unfathomable. Is it not enough that more than 500 people have died as a result of the province’s oncology crisis? How many more deaths is he waiting for before he finally takes action? The DA expects him to do the right thing and fire this MEC.

The people of KZN have the choice at the ballot box next year. Either they can keep what has proved to be a merciless and uncaring government in office – or they can fire them. The corruption, maladministration and lack of leadership can no longer be tolerated.

Issued by Imran KeekaDA KZN Spokesperson on Health, 27 September 2018