934 cancer patients waiting for treatment at Steve Biko Hospital

934 cancer patients are waiting for radiation treatment at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, with delays caused by broken machinery earlier this year and a shortage of radiographers.

This was disclosed on my visit to the hospital yesterday with my colleague Dr Neil Campbell MPL. We wanted to assess conditions at the cancer unit and were escorted by Acting Hospital CEO Dr Mathabo Mathebula.

In February and March this year two of the four radiation machines could not be used because broken air-conditioning led to dangerous over-heating.

We were assured that the air-conditioning has been fixed and all the radiation machines can now be used, but a backlog has developed because of the down-time.

Another problem is that there are only 20 radiographers but 31 are ideally required to make best use of the machines.

Ten radiographers have left in the last year, and only 8 radiographers have been recruited to replace them.

Patients currently wait about one month to see a doctor, and will receive radiation treatment two months after being scanned. This three month delay decreases the survival chances of cancer patients.

Staff told us that there has been a sharp increase in cancer cases, many coming from other provinces and a significant number from other countries.

The most common cancers are breast, cervical, head and neck, and prostate.

I am concerned that there is a large backlog of cancer cases which is being worsened by the shortage of radiographers.

More radiographers should be recruited urgently and private hospitals should be contracted to cut the backlog.