The KwaZulu-Natal health department has welcomed an SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) probe into complaints about its decision to stop operating two radiotherapy machines at Addington Hospital in Durban.
"This investigation would afford the department an opportunity to place the matter into perspective and address allegations that it had compromised patients' lives," KwaZulu-Natal health department head Dr Sibongile Zungu said in a statement on Saturday night.
The SAHRC received a complaint on Thursday about the department's failure to keep the machines running, spokesman Isaac Mangena said at the time.
He said the commission would investigate the complaint with the office of the Public Protector, which he claimed had also received complaints.
Cancer treatment at the hospital stopped after Tecmed, the company which installed and maintains the Varian Rapid Arc Linear Accelerators, stopped servicing them in January.
The department had stopped paying the maintenance contract nine months earlier in March 2012, claiming Tecmed fraudulently obtained the tender for the two machines. The company has denied the allegation.
In May, KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo announced that the department would start paying the contract on a month-to-month basis, and a few days later Tecmed serviced the machines.
Dhlomo blamed Tecmed for the machines' failure to operate. He believed the department had a strong case against the company.
Mangena did not give details of the complaints or the complainants.
However, the hospital's oncology department's former head Professor Amo Jordaan, said previously that he intended complaining to the SAHRC and had complained to the Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union (Hospersa). He resigned in December because of the department's failure to pay the contracts.
Hospersa, which has called on Dhlomo to publicly apologise, has yet to lodge a complaint with the SAHRC.
In her statement Zungu said: "Our decision to halt the use of the machines followed lengthy internal investigations into the procurement process involving the machines and the service provider [Tecmed] in question."
She said the department opened two cases with the police in 2010, but that prosecution had been delayed and the department could not allow continued financial losses pending finality on the matter.
Zungu said in May she hoped that investigations would be wrapped up within the next 12 month.
Hawks' spokesman Captain Paul Ramalako previously confirmed that the cases were opened. National Prosecuting Authority spokeswoman Natasha Ramkisson previously said she could not comment on the case.
It is still not clear what the exact charges are or how far along the police are with the investigation.
It could also not be confirmed whether the department had resumed payments on the five year, R26 million maintenance contract which was part of the R120m tender.
According to Jordaan, only one other hospital in the country has similar machines, which are accurate in dealing with tumours and which reduce the waiting time for radiotherapy from eight months to two weeks.