Cancer machines' maintenance not paid - Hospersa

2014-06-07 17:30

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Durban - The maintenance contract for two state-of-the-art cancer radiotherapy machines at a Durban hospital has not been paid for the past 11 months, Hospersa said on Saturday.

Only one of the machines was in working order and there was now a six-month backlog in treating patients, Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union (Hospersa) spokesperson Michelle Connolly said in an open letter to Addington Hospital's chief executive Dr Mthetheleli Ndlangisa.

"Your office has failed to follow up on a commitment made to discuss the situation in your oncology department with us," she said in the letter.

"After speaking to patients in the oncology treatment queue and to other parties, whose identity we are compelled to protect, we were able to ascertain that a six-month backlog existed in terms of treatments for cancer patients.

"It also became clear to us that staff members were working regular overtime, trying to do their best to accommodate as many patients as possible with only one machine in operation."

Connolly said she and Hospersa assistant general secretary Dumisane Mthalane had met with Ndlangisa in April to discuss problems at the hospital's oncology department.

Promises to pay

Werner Bergere, the chief executive of Tecmed, which is responsible for servicing the machines confirmed that the contract had not been paid for the past 11 months.

He said there had been several promises to pay.

"Nothing has ever materialised," Bergere said.

The two machines, named Nguni and Nkandla, have safety features that shut themselves down if they are not serviced properly.

There is only one other machine like these two in the country.

It is not the first time payment issues relating to the maintenance of the two machines made headlines.

Early last year, Tecmed refused to service them after having not been paid for nine months.

At the time KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo said it had suspended its contract with Tecmed claiming the company had obtained the tender fraudulently.

Two charges had been lodged with police in Pietermaritzburg in May and July 2010.

In May 2013, Dhlomo said the investigations were at an advanced stage and that a forensic investigation was being carried out by the audit firm Ernst and Young.

Alleged corruption

He said he had also met with representatives of Varian in Switzerland to inform them of the alleged corruption.

To date Tecmed has never been charged and it is not clear what became of either investigation.

Dhlomo also said at the time that payments would be resumed on a month to month basis pending the outcome of investigations, as well as negotiations with Varian, the manufacturer of the machines, called Varian Rapid Arc Linear Accelerators.

According to Bergere the department paid the previous backlog, but has not paid since the machines were restarted.

The machines in Durban were installed by Tecmed in 2010 after it was awarded a R120m tender, which included a R33m maintenance contract over five years. The maintenance contract was later reduced to R26m.

By the time the machines first stopped working at the end of 2012, Addington's oncology department, which receives patients from across the province, had cut its waiting time for treatment from eight months to two weeks.

Tecmed has always denied any wrongdoing.

Comment could not immediately be obtained from the KwaZulu-Natal health department on Saturday.

No maintenance contract

Connolly said during the visit to Addington in April, the Hospersa had been aware that one of the machines was being stripped for parts to keep the other going.

Apart from the two cancer radiotherapy machines the hospital's CT scanning machine was also currently not operating.

Earlier this week, general electric manager Chris Austin confirmed that the company, which had installed the CT scanner at the hospital, had been contacted with a view to repairing it.

He said there was no maintenance contract regarding the scanner and the department had to first place an order with the company and pay for the necessary repairs and maintenance.

It is not the only CT scanner reportedly not operating at the province's hospitals.

The CT Scanners at Durban's King Edward VII Hospital, KwaDukuza Provincial Hospital and Prince Myisheni Memorial Hospital were also reported to not be working.

Comment could not immediately be obtained from Philips, which was the manufacturers of the machine in Prince Myisheni.

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