Rights probe welcomed

2013-07-22 00:00

THE KZN Health Department said it welcomes an investigation by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) into its controversial decision to halt the operation of two cancer radiotherapy machines at Addington Hospital earlier this year.

The department maintains that its actions in stopping the use of the machines pending the outcome of a fraud probe into the maintenance contract awarded to Tecmed — the company that also installed the machines — were “misunderstood”.

The department also insists that the fact that machines were not operational for a period of about four months from the beginning of the year did not compromise the health or lives of its oncology patients.

Responding to the announcement by the SAHRC that it is to investigate complaints about the department’s failure to keep the machines operational, the head of the department Dr Sibongile Zungu said at the weekend the decision to halt the use of the machines had followed lengthy internal investigations into the procurement process involving the machines and the service provider in question.

The department could not allow millions of rands being lost pending finality in the matter.

But Zungu said before stopping the use of the machines the department had put in place a number of measures to ensure that patients’ treatment would not be compromised.

These included the free transportation of affected patients to other state health facilities to continue their treatment and the prioritisation of “urgent cases”.

Zungu said in a statement it was unfortunate that the matter had been “misunderstood by some and taken out of context by others who sought to exploit the issue for their own agendas”.

The department’s spokesperson Desmond Motha confirmed yesterday that the two radiotherapy machines have been back in operation since last month when KZN Health MEC Sibongeniseni Dhlomo announced that the department would resume paying the maintenance contract on a “month-to-month” basis.

“In the meantime, the criminal investigation by the Hawks is ongoing,” Motha said.

Due to the legal implications of the case, the department was not in a position to expand further at this stage on the reasons for its decision.

Zungu said that the SAHRC investigation will enable the department to “place the matter in perspective and address allegations that it compromised patients’ lives”.

“We look forward to engaging with the SAHRC on the issue,” she said.

The department’s failure to pay the maintenance contracts reportedly led to the resignation of the head of the hospital’s oncology department, Professor Amo Jordaan, in December.

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