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Gauteng ‘dragging’ its feet on buying radiation equipment

Cancer patients complain about delays

A cancer patient being brought in at the Radiation Oncology ward at the Charlotte Maxeke. File picture
A cancer patient being brought in at the Radiation Oncology ward at the Charlotte Maxeke. File picture
Image: Thulani Mbele

Gauteng health department has been accused of stalling to secure cancer treatment equipment and personnel after it received R784m in March to deal with the backlog of patients.

Section27, Cancer Alliance and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) say the department has been dragging its feet while over 3,000 cancer patients have been on the waiting list to receive oncology treatment at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Joburg and Steve Biko Hospital in Tshwane. 

The department was given R784m to finance radiation oncology at the two hospitals and only on Friday last week it began the bidding process for service providers. 

Section27 attorney Khanyisa Mapipa said the department needs to distinguish the difference between the backlog list and a waiting list.

She said patients in the backlog are those who are on the waiting list and did not receive their treatment within the prescribed period.

“In the meeting held with Gauteng department of health and Gauteng treasury on June 2 2023, we were advised by the head of hospital services, Dr Stephen Mankupane, that the number has decreased to approximately 2,700 patients.

“We point out though that these 2,700 patients are not the entire waiting list for radiation oncology. This number is the backlog list which must be distinguished from the waiting list,” said Mapipa. 

She said Charlotte Maxeke had a backlog of 2,500 patients while Steve Biko had 526 patients waiting for treatment. 

She said that the waiting list includes patients awaiting radiation oncology treatment but within a time frame, after protocols and guidelines and that the backlog list “includes patients awaiting radiation oncology treatment but falling outside recommended time periods, resulting in cancer recurrences and surgery redos”. 

Mapipa said the main issue of the backlog is the lack of radiation oncology machinery and the shortage in radiation oncology staff in Gauteng.

“ The machines are still under procurement, and radiation units in the province are working with a fraction of staff to ensure timely patient care,” said Mapipa. 

Mapipa said certain undertakings were still being made by the department, “the crux of which is that patients will be treated through the outsourcing programme by early August 2023”. 

A Gauteng patient, who has been waiting for her treatment since October, told Sowetan that her family was considering taking out a loan to pay for her treatment. She eventually fell into the backlog list. 

“My husband and I have discussed the idea of private healthcare, but it’s very expensive. We’re talking about over R15,000 and we don’t have that kind of money just lying around,” said the woman. 

“I’ve had one operation and the doctor has told me that I am a high-risk patient and really need that radiation treatment or I risk the chances of recession,” said the breast cancer patient. 

She said she was turned away at Charlotte Maxeke despite her doctor’s advise.

“They said that the patients that are liable to receive the treatment are critical patients and not high-risk patients. I was told that I would have to wait, I cannot jump the queue,” she said. 

She added that the department doesn’t seem to care about the patients. 

“The department was given money to source machines but three months have passed. Three months is a lot of time when it comes to cancer. They are taking their time, but time isn’t on our side,” she expressed.

Department spokesperson Motalatale Modiba said it was treating the matter with urgency.

“The allegations of lack of urgency on the part of the department are not true. It is important that due processes are followed even as we expedite this matter.To ensure that patients requiring radiation oncology services are not disadvantaged by the reduced available public health resources, the department has identified the need to appoint private sector providers to supply radiation oncology services for this financial year,” said Modiba. 

He said efforts to address the surgical backlog had impacted the healthcare system in Gauteng. 

“A total of R784m was allocated and approved during the Gauteng department of health’s budget vote on May 25 to address urgently the backlog in surgical and radiation oncology services, emanating from shortages in both personnel and equipment, and the knock-on effect of the pandemic that stretched the capacity of the Gauteng healthcare system,” said Modiba. 

He said the outsourcing for these services must be done within the confines of applicable legislative framework such as the Public Finance Management Act and the supply chain management processes. 

“The department completed specifications for the outsourcing of radiation oncology services for Charlotte Maxeke and Steve Biko hospitals. The tender advertisement is under way,” Modiba said. 

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