Gauteng cancer treatment hit by machine breakdowns and drug shortages

By Jack Bloom MPL, DA Gauteng Shadow MEC for Health:

Cancer treatment in Gauteng hospitals has been hindered by drug shortages and machine breakdowns.

According to a written reply by Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu to my questions in the Gauteng Legislature, the following drugs were not available this year at the four academic hospitals that provide cancer treatment:

  • Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital – Irinotecan
  • Steve Biko Academic Hospital – Filgrastim, Mitoxantrone, Colaspase
  • Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital – Bondronate, Chlorambucil, Disodium Pamidronate, Deferasirox, Danasol, Busulphan, Sandostatin, LAR
  • George Mukhari Hospital – Rituximab, Decadron, Thalidomide, Vasenoid

Mahlangu blames the shortage predominantly on suppliers not being able to provide these drugs.

The Steve Biko Hospital has been hard hit by machinery breakdowns in the last 12 months. Four cancer treatment machines were out of operation there for a total of 104 days:

  • Asterix Linear Accelerator:   26 working days
  • Obelix Linear Accelerator:    40 working days
  • Calvin Linear Accelerator:    18 working days
  • HOBBS Linear Accelerator:   20 working days

At Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, the Orthovoltage machine was broken for 60 days.

MEC Mahlangu claims that the breakdowns had no impact on the treatment of patients as they were referred to other facilities, but this seems unlikely. I’m sure that there were unnecessary delays because of this and a great deal of inconvenience in traveling to other hospitals.

The machinery-plagued cancer unit at Steve Biko Hospital also has a severe staff shortage – it is short of 7 radiation therapists, 4 specialists and 33 nurses.

Charlotte Maxeke Hospital is short of 11 radiation therapists, 8 nurses and 4 specialists.

The Gauteng Health Department should not pretend that cancer treatment is unaffected by the shortages and machinery breakdowns.

Speedy diagnosis and treatment is essential in saving the lives of cancer patients.

Urgent attention is needed at the cancer unit at Steve Biko Hospital where there are particular problems that need to be resolved.