KZN hospitals oncology ‘crisis’
Health Department says one chemo drug is in short supply but 29 other drugs are available
ADDINGTON Hospital’s chemotherapy treatment services came to a halt for many cancer patients last week and only limited services were being offered at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital (IALCH) due to a reportedly critical drug shortage, says DA KZN Health spokesperson Dr Imran Keeka.
He said he had received reliable information that chemotherapy treatment services at both hospitals had been severely impacted by a shortage of several chemotherapy drugs last week. He said the hospitals had received some stock early this week and the situation had improved.
But the KZN Department of Health said the DA’s claim of a crisis was an “electioneering strategy” that stemmed from a temporary shortage of just one chemotherapy drug which was currently being sourced.
Keeka also alleged that there was no radiologist at Addington to report on staging CT scans and investigations for cancer patients, and that these services had to be requested from other facilities.
“New patients are also having to wait for as long as six months for radiation treatment, with clinic bookings only being made for February next year. This is then followed by a wait of another month for a scan and then yet another month, at least, before treatment begins,” Keeka said.
The situation had worsened after one of the three doctors deployed from the Wits Health Consortium to help address the oncology crisis in the province left IALCH at the end of October, he said.
“The DA has also been informed that only the head of oncology at this hospital is currently registered as a specialist. This means the other doctors may not practise as specialists until they have completed their other specialist qualification requirements.”
Some of the drugs that were not available, which resulted in treatment coming to a halt for some patients last week, were Etoposide, a drug used to treat a variety of cancers, and Paclitaxel, which is used with Herceptin to treat breast cancer and other cancers. He said the hospitals also had limited stock of the other Texane group of drugs, which forms part of the regimen for various cancers.
Keeka said the DA would again approach the SA Human Rights Commission and write to Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who recently commented that the oncology crisis was over.
“Clearly he is not fully appraised of the situation in KZN,” Keeka said.
An oncology patient, who spoke to The Mercury on condition of anonymity, said that a few weeks ago he had been advised that there was no stock of his oral oncology medication, but he had returned the next week to collect it.
In its response to the allegations, the Health Department said the DA’s claims aimed to discredit its efforts that had resulted in “significant improvements to the provision of cancer treatment services in the province”.
“Chemotherapy has not been stopped at any KZN public hospital. All the hospitals that render chemotherapy are providing the treatment,” the department said.
The claims of a crisis were “exaggerated” and had stemmed from “the temporary short supply of one critical drug”, Paclitaxel, which the contracted supplier had not been able to supply in terms of its contract.
The department said it was working on finding alternative suppliers.
At least 29 chemotherapy drugs were available and its interventions had resulted in “vastly reduced waiting times and a smaller backlog” for patients needing treatment for advanced cancer, according to the department.
It said 205 patients had been booked into the radiotherapy clinic at Addington Hospital; 153 booked into IALCH; and 196 into Grey’s Hospital between August 6 and December 3.
“Interventions by the KZN Department of Health have ensured that there are seven fully functional linear accelerators in the province. Three of these are at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, two at Addington Hospital, and one at Grey’s Hospital, where there are no significant waiting times for treatment.
“The seventh machine is used as part of a Public-Private Partnership at Queen Nandi and Ngwelezana Hospital complex. Currently, there is no (extended) waiting time to see an oncologist at this complex,” the department said. It had contracted three oncologists from the Wits Health Consortium.
“The waiting period to see an oncologist for the first time at ALCH and Addington Hospital ranges from three-four weeks to eight weeks, depending on the type of required service. There are no waiting times for children,” the department said.
HEALTH MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo and hospital chief executive Dr Thandeka Khanyile with one of the new oncology machines at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital earlier this year. | African News Agency (ANA) Archive