It takes more than one new cancer doc to solve a health crisis, MEC
DA slams ‘band aid’ attempt to fix KZN crisis with one oncologist appointment
The appointment of a new oncologist at Durban’s Addington Hospital that is meant to address the cancer “crisis” in KwaZulu-Natal is as good as putting a band aid on a festering wound.
That is according to the opposition Democratic Alliance in response to KZN health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo’s announcement of a new oncology appointment on Monday.
Dhlomo told reporters that Dr Thandi Lusi would be joining Dr Shona Bhadree, who heads up the department’s oncology unit at one of two state hospitals in the province designated to address cancer treatment.
But Dhlomo also announced the departure of Dr Nokwanda Zuma, who joined the team as an oncologist at Addington Hospital a mere five months ago.
And according to the Democratic Alliance, Zuma’s resignation comes after the resignation of another oncologist at Grey’s Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, the second state hospital that deals with cancer patients.
Dhlomo said Zuma had assured the department “she is not entirely lost to the department and will be back soon”. Zuma, 33, had joined the department in June after completing her training at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town.
The department has been facing a dire shortage of oncologists in the province as it battles to lure specialists from the private sector. The situation is so dire that the department even tried to import oncologists from Cuba or India to mitigate the cancer treatment crisis.
The crisis reached boiling point in 2017 when DA member of the provincial legislature Imran Keeka submitted a complaint to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) about the collapse of the oncology service.
In its 68-page report the SAHRC found that Dhlomo and his department “violated the rights of cancer patients to have access to treatment”.
The health crisis also prompted an intervention by health minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who said the procurement services, human resources and a lack of management skills were the root cause.
On Monday, Keeka, who has been calling for Dhlomo’s head amid the oncology crisis, said the briefing was designed to “excuse numerous and ongoing failures on the part of the MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and his department [and] must be seen for the crisis management that it is”.
“The MEC has a poor track record when it comes to being up front about healthcare in KZN, in particular when it comes to the ongoing oncology crisis. However, there are matters he simply cannot run away from,” said Keeka.
He said that Zuma, who was paraded earlier this year by Dhlomo as the “saviour of KZN’s oncology crisis”, had resigned effectively from the end of November.
He said Dr Omran El-Koha, an oncologist from Grey’s Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, had also resigned and left SA to pursue his career abroad.
“The situation leaves the province in an even more precarious state when it comes to oncology services. Meanwhile, it is increasingly clear that national health minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s recent comment that the province’s oncology crisis is over is completely absurd,” said Keeka.
KZN head of department Dr Musa Gumede confirmed that an oncologist had resigned from Grey’s Hospital.
Dhlomo also said on Monday the shortage of chemotherapy drugs was not the fault of his department and it was not unique to the province but a countrywide problem, which was being attended to.
“Chemotherapy has not been stopped at any KZN public hospital. All the hospitals that render chemotherapy are providing the treatment. The only challenge that exists concerns the Paclitaxel drug as the contracted supplier is not able to supply it in keeping with the contract.
“Not many suppliers are involved in the manufacture of chemotherapy or cytotoxic agents. However, the national department of health is working on finding alternative suppliers for importing via a Section 21 Permit,” said Dhlomo.
He said there was no crisis regarding cancer treatment, and the department was gradually turning the situation around.
He also revealed that the department had contracted three oncologists from the Wits Health Consortium who are based at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital in Durban, and two oncologists at Addington Hospital.
“Even in cases where an employee may have left the contractor, they will be replaced. As a result of these measures the waiting period to see an oncologist for the first time at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital and Addington Hospital ranges from three to four weeks to eight weeks, depending on the type of required service, while the total number of new patients that are booked is 1,036,” said Dhlomo.
He said that before these interventions, the wait was between five and six months.
“There are not waiting times for children who need to see an oncologist because they are fragile,” said Dhlomo.