#KZNOncologyCrisis – Screening campaign cannot be used to disguise a failed Health MEC

Democratic Alliance media statement by Dr Imran Keeka, MPL

DA KZN Spokesperson on  Health

#KZNOncologyCrisis – Screening campaign cannot be used to disguise a failed Health MEC


The Democratic Alliance in KwaZulu-Natal welcomes the launch of the National Cancer Campaign by National Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi in the province today and hopes that this initiative will create a greater awareness of the various types of cancer and allow for early detection.

In KZN, it is the cancers which affect women that form a large percentage of conditions. Breast cancer has now been overtaken by cervical cancer yet these two cancers are by no means the only type that oncologists see.

With the introduction of the screening campaign, the DA is however deeply concerned that the result will be much higher numbers of detection, which the province does not have the capacity to fully manage.

We also have concerns around whether  KZN’s Health Department under MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo is capable of properly managing patients going forward – particularly while there remains no sign of the R100million promised by President Ramaphosa for oncology services in the province. The DA raised this issue during a recent KZN Health portfolio committee meeting with the result that HOD Dr Gumede could not tell us when and if it will be made available.

This money is critical when it comes to addressing the multitude of problems currently collapsing the province’s oncology services. These include;

  • An ongoing shortage of oncologists. Ethekwini has just two full-time oncologists and three on a temporary contract. In Pietermartizburg, there are now three oncologists after one resigned earlier this year. Queen Nandi does not have an onsite oncology service – as is often misstated by MEC Dhlomo – with cancer patients from this facility and from Ngwelezana being sent for treatment to oncologists on temporary contract with the Department;
  • Major delays in getting patients to oncologists. Addington Hospital does not have a radiologist that is able to report on staging CT Scans and investigations for cancer patients that require such a service with the hospital having gone so far as to request help from other facilities;
  • Ongoing issues with the functionality of KZN’s mammography service facilities. A May 2018 written parliamentary reply (view here) from MEC Dhlomo confirmed that Queen Nandi Regional Hospital was not able to offer oncology services due to the unit not being licensed since there is no radiologist. Meanwhile, Prince Mshiyeni Memorial could also not offer services at the time as the mammography unit was broken and was going in for repairs. The response does not state that the mammogram at RK Khan’s Hospital has not been working for more than a year. Nor does it mention the fact that Addington Hospital’s machines either don’t work at all or break down frequently; and
  • The outcome of this is that patients who require CT Scans – those with suspected cancers or that require staging CT Scans to check how far the cancer has spread – must wait anything up to three months to have a scan. The DA has verified this during oversight inspections. To make matters worse, by the time patients finally get an appointment with an oncologist, they are told that the scans are old and have to be repeated, putting them back into a vicious waiting cycle.

To compound these issues, Addington’s nuclear physics department, essential for oncology services, has also closed. The result is that patients are being referred to King Edward VIII hospital and Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital which already have their own patient loads.

The DA has also received complaints regarding shortages of Chemotherapeutic drugs and related medicines after the issue was also picked up by NGO’s monitoring the supply of these medicines. Yet President Ramaphosa, his Health Minister and many of their provincial Health MEC’s have remained sitting on their hands while patients continued to die. In many cases, patients did not receive treatment and were simply sent home and told to come back the next day.

While surgical services at most KZN facilities do not have severe backlogs and cancer patients are prioritised, equipment such as Endoscopy equipment – used in this case for diagnosis of cancer and in procedures – is not always working and in some cases, patients wait for several months to have an investigation. In many cases this is too late because cancer does not wait for an appointment, it spreads.

The situation in our province is dire, yet MEC Dhlomo continues to mislead the public – most recently around the number of KZN cancer patients waiting for treatment and for how long they have been waiting.

In a report presented to the National Health Council earlier this year, it was stated that there are around 8 000 KZN patients waiting for oncology services. Yet, in an executive statement in June, MEC Dhlomo, disputed this, saying there were 3 000 patients waiting, with 500 added since the resumption of services in May 2018.

While the numbers are being debated, people are waiting and their cancer is not.  Even if Dhlomo is being straightforward about the 500 patients it still does not explain what happened to the original 7 500. Did they die while waiting?  The MEC is still unable to tell us this.  We already know via parliamentary replies and the MEC’s executive statement that some 530 cancer patients died while waiting for treatment.

The DA hopes that when the ANC national executive chose KZN to launch this campaign, they did so for the right reasons and not to bolster the image of a failed, human-rights violating Health MEC. If anything, they should use their positions to deal with him after KZN Premier Willies Mchunu and the ANC in this province have done nothing to ensure accountability.

As we enter the final run-up to elections, the uncaring ANC will continue to make false promises while continuing to deliver inadequate services riddled with corruption.  The people of KZN must punish them for this and get rid of incompetence and failing healthcare services when they go to the ballot box next year.

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