Cancers spread as patients queue

2017-05-08 14:00
KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Health Sibongiseni Dhlomo ... withdrew ‘corrupt’ maintenance contracts for radiotherapy equipment, which is now not operating.

KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Health Sibongiseni Dhlomo ... withdrew ‘corrupt’ maintenance contracts for radiotherapy equipment, which is now not operating. (Ian Carbutt)

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A Pietermaritzburg woman who was diagnosed with stage two cervical cancer in February lost her battle with the illness two weeks ago while waiting for radiation treatment.

The woman was referred to Northdale hospital in December by her daughter’s GP where after being “sent from pillar to post” and multiple scans and blood tests later she was officially diagnosed with the illness.

Initially at Northdale they had waited for several hours before seeing a doctor who told them this was “not her field” and sent them to a gynaecologist on the other side of the building.

“When we got there, the nurse said the gynaecologist worked by appointment only and we were told to come back in February. I said that my mother was sick and could not wait so they gave us a date in January.”

On their return to hospital a biopsy was performed but they were told the results would be ready in February.

“She was so sick, she was going to the doctor every day for pain injections,” the woman said.

After being officially diagnosed with stage two cervical cancer her mother was told she could start radiation treatment only on September 11.

“Every single day was a battle for my mother ... Eventually I found someone at Grey’s and begged them to give her an earlier date. I told them how she had been in and out of hospital and all doctors and nurses did was give her Panado and send her home,” the woman said.

Her mother was admitted to Grey’s in March but after two days was sent home again. “This happened for a few weeks until, on my birthday, the doctor at Grey’s asked to see my mother.

“He said in front of everyone there was nothing they could do for her as the cancer had spread to her lungs and liver.”

They were told her mother could live for four years with radiation therapy but nothing was done. “Everything went downhill from there. It was so heartbreaking,” she said.

The woman said radiation was scheduled for April 24 but on April 21 she’d taken her mother back to hospital.

“We waited an hour. My mom was in a wheelchair. She did not have any pain medication or anything.

“Finally they saw us and admitted her. She died the next day.

“She suffered until the end and nobody did anything to help us. I wanted to grab a doctor and say, ‘hey, we are here’, but I feel like they shut out that human element of feeling,” she said.

“My mom was 54. She was outgoing, independent and friendly. At the end, it was like she was a completely different person.”

The woman’s tragic story follows on the heels of a march by over 1 000 KZN doctors who took to the streets in Durban under the auspices of the South African Medical Association (Sama) on Friday.

They protested about poor working conditions, broken equipment, staff shortages and crumbling infrastructure.

Medical Rights Advocacy Network (Meran) co-ordinator Poonitha Naidoo (a former state radiographer turned lecturer) told The Witness that equipment used to treat cancer patients was complicated machinery that needed to be maintained weekly so as to operate without glitches.

To forego maintenance was “irresponsible” since not maintaining them posed a risk of harm to the patients as well as the equipment shutting down.

She alleged that the maintenance contract for the machinery was removed by Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo a few years ago as it was alleged the contracts were “corrupt”.

“What also bothers me is that there are patients waiting in line for MRI and CT scans,” she said.

She said because so many were waiting for diagnostic scans the real burden of cancer in the province was not being noted as people were not being fully examined and diagnosed.

Mary de Haas of Meran said the KZN Health Department was responsible for the deaths of patients waiting for treatment.

She said Meran had written to the department raising various issues. The letter states that an estimated 50% of cancer patients require radiotherapy but the department “has wilfully failed to maintain the necessary equipment”.

It alleged countless cancer patients were deprived of life-saving treatment “because state-of-the-art radiotherapy machines are lying idle at Addington hospital ... since 2013”.

Responding to a list of questions by The Witness, KZN Health spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi said the issue of maintenance contracts for certain health technology equipment is currently under investigation. “Regarding cancer patients who require treatment, the department has said that, due to its campaigns like Phila Ma, which encourages women to test for all cancers, there has been an increase in the number of patients who visit public health facilities to seek treatment.

“Furthermore, the department has experienced resignations by health professionals in this field who joined the private sector. In this regard, KZN MEC for Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo has said that within the limited financial resources, the department would refer some patients requiring oncology treatment to private health facilities to mitigate backlogs”.

DA MPL Dr Imran Keeka said the party will be writing to the National Health Ombudsman submitting details of specific patients who died while waiting for cancer treatment. “It is our view that culpability lies squarely at the MEC’s door ... Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo must accept responsibility,” he said.

Read more on:    cancer  |  pietermaritzburg  |  kzn health department

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