DURBAN, June 13 – KwaZulu-Natal’s head of health, Dr. Sibongiseni Dhlomo, said on Tuesday that oncology services had been completely restored at Durban’s Addington Hospital.
Dhlomo said that the oncology services should be near full strength by July, bringing to an end more than two years of scandals that led to a near collapse of public-sector oncology services in the province.
Speaking at a press briefing held at Addington’s oncology unit, Dhlomo said the department had successfully repaired one Rapid Arc Linear Accelerator and also upgraded its software.
“The [Rapid Arc] Linear Accelerator received a full licence to operate on 5 June. On 6 June, the first patient successfully received the first dose of radiation at Addington Hospital,” he said.
Dhlomo said a second “new machine” had been installed and was expected to treat its first patient in July.
The repaired unit, housed in a room called ‘Nkandla’, was one of two that fell into disrepair between 2015 and 2017 after the department publicly fell out with the distributor and maintenance agent Techmed Africa (Pty) Ltd.
During this period the department awarded a maintenance contract to KZN Oncology Services (Pty) Ltd. But instead of being repaired, the machines fell into further disrepair.
KZN Oncology Services was removed and one unit was later deemed beyond repair.
US-based Varian Medical Systems, the manufacturer of the Rapid Arc Linear Accelerators, has since taken over the maintenance contract with the provincial health department.
Dhlomo said oncology services in the province would be overseen by Dr Shona Bhadree, who would be based at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, also in Durban.
In total there are five Rapid Arc Linear Accelerators in the province, one at Greys Hospital, Pietermaritzburg, three at Albert Luthuli and two at Addington.
Dhlomo said negotiations were taking place with the Wits Health Consortium (Pty) Ltd, wholly-owned by the University of the Witwatersrand, to provide a further two oncologists, in a public/private partnership deal, to Addington.
Addington Hospital currently has two fulltime oncology specialists. A further two were expected to be recruited in the near term.
Oncology specialist Dr Nokwanda Zuma, based at Addington, said: “Radiation services will be ramped up progressively and the hospital should, in a short time, process between 30 and 40 patients a day.”
To augment the staff complement, the province is also hoping to reapply for a licence to train oncologists, known as registrars, and is expected to make a submission to the Health Professionals Council of South Africa soon. The province lost its licence when the oncology services fell into disrepair.
The South African Human Rights Commission said it would continue to monitor the department following an investigation that found Dhlomo and his department had “violated the rights of oncology patients” when the radiation machines at Addington fell into a state of disrepair.
This led to a staff exodus and a flood of oncology patients to Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, dramatically increasing waiting times up to eight months. ANA