Cancer patients say they are struggling to access treatment since Charlotte Maxeke hospital fire

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Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital has been closed since a fire in April this year. Patients have had to seek treatment elsewhere.
Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital has been closed since a fire in April this year. Patients have had to seek treatment elsewhere.
Photo: Masego Mafata
  • Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital has been closed since a fire in April.
  • To continue their treatment, cancer outpatients have to go to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital from Wednesdays to Fridays.
  • Patients said they were never notified that they should go to Baragwanath.
  • They queue from as early as 06:00. Getting attended to seems to involve some luck.
  • Some say they have not had treatment for weeks or months.

Many cancer outpatients at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital have had their treatment interrupted and are struggling to access treatment.

In April, a fire at Charlotte Maxeke hospital forced it to close. Since then, patients have had to seek help at other hospitals, waiting in long queues and running the risk of being turned away.

Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital is currently taking Charlotte Maxeke oncology outpatients on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. From as early as 06:00, patients queue outside.

READ | Lack of building plans delay repairs at fire-damaged Charlotte Maxeke hospital

Dimakatso Motaung, who has been receiving treatment for cervical cancer, says she has not been able to see a doctor or receive treatment since the hospital closed.

She arrives at Baragwanath early on Wednesday, hoping to receive the help she requires.

"It is my first time at this hospital, and I am already tired. At Charlotte Maxeke, we know where to go and who to speak to," she says.

"My chemotherapy session was delayed by three weeks, which was very concerning. But when I eventually heard where to go, I was very grateful to know that we were going to be helped," another patient says.

However, for Lindelwa Phakathi there has been a three-month delay in her treatment. She worries that her cancer is progressing.

She says:

I haven’t had my treatment since March. It is the fourth time that I have come to Chris Hani hoping to receive treatment. They gave me an appointment for 16 July but I am getting worse. I am coughing and my lungs are painful.

Phakathi was scheduled to receive four cycles of chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin's lymphoma. She has only received one session.

"I am trying my luck [today]. I had to wake up at 4am," she says.

Phakathi is unemployed and uses public transport to get to Baragwanath, which is about 40km from where she lives. "I don't have money to be running around like this, but I need the treatment. I have a 4-year-old son. What will happen to him if I don't survive?" she asks tearfully.

READ | Charlotte Maxeke fire: Gauteng will not survive Covid-19 third wave without the facility - DA

"They (Charlotte Maxeke) were supposed to call us from the moment the hospital closed," she complains. She says she gets updates on the status of the hospital by listening to the radio.

Another patient says she has never been notified that the oncology unit is running from Baragwanath. "I heard from someone else that I must go to Bara for treatment. When I arrived here, I was confused because I didn't know if they had our files or if I had to open a new file," she says.

Patients spend most of the day in queues waiting to open files before being seen by a doctor.

According to a staff member, patient files are still at Charlotte Maxeke and only the files of patients with appointments on a particular day are delivered to Baragwanath. Patients should therefore only go to the hospital on their appointment date.

In his latest update on Charlotte Maxeke, Gauteng government spokesperson Thabo Masebe says he cannot give a date for the reopening of the hospital. He has previously said the hospital's oncology unit would open towards the end of the first week of June.

Meanwhile, patients will have to keep trying their luck in the hope of getting the life-saving treatment they need.

Published originally on GroundUp .

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