A failing KwaZulu-Natal health system has deteriorated to the point where the Health Professions Council of SA has warned several departments they will lose their accreditation to train specialists, reports Business Day.
The KZN health system is on the brink of collapse as the province suffers from a shortage of medical specialists and equipment, and a mountain of medical negligence cases that continue to pile up.
The South African Medical Association’s (Sama’s) coastal branch chair, Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa, says specialist training has been affected since 2015 when the department decided to cut the number of registrars trained – doctors studying to become specialists in various areas of health. Sama says the health department cited funding shortages for scaling down the programme.
Mzukwa says the cutbacks of registrars are significant, declining from about 700 a year to about 200, and has reduced hospitals’ functionality.
Cancer units have been hit the hardest by the KwaZulu-Natal Health Department’s weaknesses. Treatment at public hospitals includes chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. Most of these procedures have to be administered by a specialist, an area in which the province is fatally lacking.
The report says experienced specialists such as the former head of oncology in Durban Dr Pooven Govender and Dr S’thembile Ngidi – KwaZulu-Natal’s first black female oncologist and South Africa’s second – have left, owing to the deepening health crisis and lack of support.
Despite several requests, the KwaZulu-Natal Health Department did not respond to questions e-mailed to them, the report says.
Lobby group Section27 reports that the Inkosi Albert Luthuli and Addington Hospitals are not providing adequate treatment for cancer patients due to constant breakdowns of equipment as well as a shortage of specialists. About 50% of cancer patients in KwaZulu-Natal require radiotherapy but the department has been unable to provide the treatment due to broken equipment.
Sama says there is one oncologist for Durban and the South Coast and one urologist in the region. There is a nine-month wait for MRI scans for state patients.
The Cancer Alliance, a national advocacy body, says in the report that patients are waiting for up to two years to receive treatment, and some are dying while they are waiting. Section27 says air conditioners are also not being repaired, resulting in surgery operations being cancelled or outbreaks of hospital infections.
The report says the Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of SA (Hospersa) has demanded a conclusive report on the cancer crisis in KwaZulu-Natal and that the department provides the full facts surrounding the non-maintenance of radiotherapy machines at Addington Hospital that has compromised the lives of cancer patients as far back as 2009.
Hospersa general secretary Noel Desfontaines says the department has done nothing to tackle the maintenance issues of the radiotherapy machines at the hospital since then. “While the machines remain idling, patients bear the brunt with unnecessary suffering and sometimes untimely deaths,” says Desfontaines.
In 2015, the province awarded a R2.5bn tender to Resultant Finance, a technology asset financing company, to buy and maintain all provincial hospital equipment. Hospersa says the company has failed to do so. The report says in response to questions on the non-maintenance of machines, Resultant CEO Mdu Gama said the matter between Resultant and KwaZulu-Natal Health was pending before the courts as the company has instituted legal proceedings against the department. “As a result, I have been advised that it would not be in the best interest of Resultant for us to engage with the media on this matter while it is sub judice,” Gama said.Business Day report