Two state-of-the-art radiotherapy machines used to treat cancer patients will be operational again soon at Durban's Addington Hospital, the KwaZulu-Natal health department said.
Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo told reporters in Durban his department decided to resume its payment to Tecmed Africa, which was given the contract to supply and maintain the machines.
The company stopped servicing them in January after the department stopped paying the maintenance contract, claiming it had been obtained fraudulently. The machines had been gathering dust since then, denying hundreds of cancer patients speedy treatment.
Dhlomo blamed Tecmed for the machines not operating. He believed that despite deciding to resume payments, the department had a strong case against the company.
Machines were not functional due to labour dispute
"It is true that our radiotherapy machines at Addington Hospital are currently not functional as Tecmed had decided not to continue to service them due to a legal dispute between them and the department of health."
Dhlomo said the resumption of payments would be on a month-to-month basis pending the outcome of investigations, as well as negotiations with Varian, the manufacturer of the machines, called Varian Rapid Arc Linear Accelerators.
While attending a World Health Organisation meeting in Switzerland he had met with Varian representatives.
"It was agreed that Varian would need to conduct their own investigations regarding issues that gave rise to an impasse between Tecmed and the department of health in KwaZulu-Natal," said Dhlomo.
He said the department thought it had duplicated payments on the maintenance contract.
"We think we are paying for a service we have already paid for."
He said that when the department stopped paying "little did we know that what they were going to do with the impasse was to then decide to stop bringing their technicians to service the machines".
He informed Varian there was "a thin line between the mother company [Varian] being branded with this distribution company [Tecmed]".
KwaZulu-Natal health department head Dr Sibongile Zungu said she had not expected investigations to continue for so long and that they would be concluded within 12 months.
The department opened two cases with the police in May 2010 and July 2010. To date no charges had been laid. She said she wrote to Tecmed Africa warning the company it would be blacklisted if it did not respond to the department's complaints. She said the department hoped Varian would appoint another agent.
Department blacklisted the agent
"If they have blacklisted the agent, they can have another agent that we can then deal with. That is our hope."
Zungu said some staff resigned during the investigation, while others at Addington Hospital were fired. She could not say how many had been dismissed or why.
The two machines and associated equipment were installed after Tecmed was awarded a R120 million tender in 2009. Part of the tender was a five-year maintenance contract valued at R33m.
This, according to Tecmed, was reduced to R26m after the department asked for a more cost-effective deal.
The company's chief executive Werner Begere said on Thursday that the company welcomed the department's decision to pay the outstanding fees and that the company would begin immediately to start servicing the machines and restart them.
Department denied all allegations
"We deny all allegations which the Health Department have raised against Tecmed Africa subsequent to Tecmed Africa suspending the service in the hospital due to non-payment.
"We are looking forward to discussing all allegations and matters arising with the Department of Health in this regard," he said.
Professor Amo Jordaan, who has headed the hospital's oncology department since 1980 and was instrumental in getting the two Varian Rapid Arc Linear Accelerators, and who quit at the end of 2012 over the department's failure to keep the machines running, was elated.
"I am very pleased that sanity has prevailed for the patients And it would be wonderful if these machines can do the job."
He said he hoped that the department would strive to rebuild the morale of the staff of the Addington oncology, which according to him had been badly affected by the shutdown of the machines.
Jordaan said that prior to the machines' installation waiting times of up to eight months were usual at the department's oncology unit. Once operational the two machines had cut this to two weeks, but once they shut down patients were being transferred to Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital.