The SA Human Right Commission visited Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital on Thursday for a site inspection, following several reports alleging that there is a shortage of radiation oncologists in the hospital's oncology ward.
"The purpose of our investigation was to establish the correctness of the claims and to examine the availability of health care, human resources, physical infrastructure, equipment and other specific aspects, such as the long waiting times for treatment," the commission's provincial manager, Buang Jones, said.
Hospital CEO Gladys Bogoshi, along with her team, responded to the allegations.
Bogoshi said the hospital served different types of cancer patients and that, according to the numbers, the hospital had seen 3 189 patients from April to May 30.
"In terms of breast cancer, we saw 1 313 patients. For gynae we saw 1 508, the lung, head and neck, we saw 368 patients, which brought us to a total of 3 189."
Of the 3 189 patients, 733 were new cases who had been diagnosed and referred to the hospital's radiation oncology department.
Bogoshi also explained the context behind the term "waiting time". Breaking down the numbers, she said the hospital's waiting units had different waiting times because patients were diagnosed with various types of cancers.
"As an example, for prostate cancer, the waiting time [to be treated] is just above 24 months, and we have 300 patients on the waiting list which fluctuates all the time.
"For breast cancer, we have 50 on the waiting list, and the waiting period is between four to six months. For gynae and other cancers, we have 150 patients and their waiting time is about three to four months, and in medicalo, we have 90 patients and the waiting time is one week."
Shortages of oncologists
The hospital reported that it currently has three specialists in the oncology ward, as well as two vacant posts. Bogoshi said the hospital had tried everything it could to fill the two specialist posts, even advertising in international journals.
"Radiation oncologists make a lot of money in the private sector and it is not easy to keep them in public sector. It is has not been easy to get a specialist.
"The hospital would like to have five full-time radiation oncologist, but currently has three. Yes, they are overworked... However, we have two more who are part time and others who volunteer."
Despite this, Bogoshi said the department's shortage of radiation oncologists was not a crisis.
"In my opinion, there is no crisis, but a concern. It would be a crisis if patients were not getting any sort of treatment," she said.