Health-e (Cape Town)

7 December 2012

South Africa: 'Hospital Saves Money While Patients Are Dying'

Gert Fourie (63) – Boksburg Pensioner – Former mill turner in the engineering industry.

He has three children and five grandchildren.

Fourie was first diagnosed with cancer in his tonsils 13 years ago, but was declared cancer-free after the cancerous tonsil was surgically removed. However, earlier this year, he consulted a doctor with what resembled a pimple on his chin. A biopsy revealed that the “pimple” was cancerous and he was referred to Charlotte Maxeke Hospital for further treatment.

On June 23 he was admitted for a CT (computed tomography) scan to determine the extent of the cancer. His scan was postponed several times and Fourie eventually had it done more than two weeks later on July 9, however he had to remain in hospital while he waited. “I had to stay and wait in hospital for two weeks just to have the scan done, and all the while I could feel this thing growing on my chin,” said Fourie. “I was kept away from my family for no reason, and they could have used the bed for someone who really needed it.”

On July 16, Fourie received the results from the CT scan – the cancer has returned and had spread to his throat and jaw – the “pimple” was in fact a cancerous tumour.

Fourie was then made to wait almost two months before he received his first radiation session on September 5.

“I was told that I mustn’t skip a single treatment,” said Fourie, who was at the hospital by 4am on the days he was due for treatment, to be one of the first in the queue and to make sure he was done early.

Six weeks into his treatment regimen Fourie arrived at the hospital one Tuesday at 4am, but wasn’t met by the oncology staff as is usually the case. After 10 hours he was eventually told at 2pm that the radiation machine’s server had broken down, and that there would be no radiation treatment that day.

When Fourie returned the following day, and the day after, the problem had not been resolved, and to save himself the 70km return trip everyday he decided to only come in sporadically until the machines were working again.

After two weeks Fourie started receiving manual radiation on October 30 – although the server was still down, staff were able to override the machine and administer the treatment manually. However, a week later the radiation machine packed up completely. A day later it was up again, only to break down again. This pattern continued for days.

“When my treatment started the doctor told me I should not miss one session, but now he’s saying I shouldn’t worry about it,” said Fourie.

“Personally I don’t think that they [the Department of Health] are paying enough attention to cancer patients. They are trying to save money [by not replacing a broken machine] but all the while people are suffering and dying.”

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