Human Rights Commission to hear KZN health MEC on oncology crisis

14 May 2018 - 08:43 By Matthew Savides
Sibongiseni Dhlomo. File photo
Sibongiseni Dhlomo. File photo
Image: Sunday Times

KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo will on Monday square up to the South African Human Rights Commission‚ which last year slated his department for its failure to provide adequate cancer treatment for the province’s sick.

In a report‚ the commission found that the department had “violated the rights” of cancer patients at two facilities under investigation‚ largely because of a lack of working equipment and staff shortages.

Last month the commission criticised Dhlomo’s department for its slow response to the problems‚ despite the report having been issued being more than 10 months ago.

“Ten months later and after many exchanges of correspondence and meetings with the KZN provincial department of health‚ the commission remains concerned at the lack of meaningful progress. The commission has noted the numerous reports that many cancer patients still lack access to timely and appropriate oncology health care and that some may have already died‚” the statement‚ issued in April‚ read. As a result‚ the commission said it had issued Dhlomo a notice to appear before it “to produce certain information and documentation as well as answer questions under oath that will be posed to him to enable the commission to decide on what action to take in order to positively impact on this undesirable situation”.

Speaking to the media ahead of his budget speech last week‚ Dhlomo said he was prepared to meet with the commission to explain the challenges - most of which‚ particularly those involving cancer machines‚ he said were out of the department’s hands.

He admitted that the commission might not agree that the repair of the oncology machines “is a variable that is beyond your capacity”‚ but that this would be discussed at the hearing.

Dhlomo was also adamant that he was able to offer good news in terms of the progress in dealing with the backlog of patients‚ saying that operations “have not ground to a halt”.

During his budget speech itself‚ Dhlomo said that both the new and repaired oncology machines at Addington Hospital - one of those which fell under the SAHRC investigation - would be up and running and seeing patients by the end of June. While this was happening‚ the hospital continued to see about 450 patients a month for chemotherapy treatment.

Other hospitals treatment patients were also doing well.

These included:

• Grey’s Hospital‚ where four oncologists attend to a total of about 140 new patients and 500 follow-up patients per month;
• Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital‚ where a contract has been signed with the Wits Health Consortium‚ which undertook to provide three oncologists for eight hours per day - meaning that 150 new patients and 300 follow-up patients per month will be seen;
• In the northern parts of KZN‚ for the first time‚ the department has collaborated with the Joint Medical House of Oncologists‚ based at the Richards’ Bay Private Hospital‚ to treat public sector cancer patients; and
• A satellite site has been created‚ operating out of the Ngwelezane/Queen Nandi Hospital complex to cater for patients that are referred for radiotherapy by other health districts.

“Working in conjunction with the National Department of Health‚ we are continuing with our efforts of head-hunting and also concentrating on importing oncologists from Cuba and/or India‚” said Dhlomo.

But DA MPL Imran Keeka‚ whose complaint led to the SAHRC launching its investigation‚ has questioned the department’s capacity to deal with the oncology crisis. He said he would be attending Monday’s hearing.

“The DA is hopeful that the SAHRC will see through MEC Dhlomo’s lacklustre excuses. We also expect the SAHRC to demand from him the number of patients that have died as a result of his ineptitude. Above all‚ we expect the SAHRC to hold him accountable for the suffering and death he has caused‚” he said.