Updated 20 November 2013

Cancer: sent home with a headache pill

Cancer sufferer Barnett Fine was initially sent home with headache meds. His hospital lacked crucial supplies and failed to give him the treatment he needed. He later died in pain.


Have you heard of Barnett Fine? Barnett Fine was diagnosed with throat cancer in December 2011 and died on the 22nd of September of this year. He isn’t able to share his story of how broken machines and a lack of crucial supplies, like morphine, led to him being initially sent home with headache medication and later to die in pain. Barnett’s daughter, Hanna Neuhaus, has taken up his fight.

Neuhaus, together with Campaigning for Cancer, wants to ensure that every South African hears about how cancer patients are not getting the treatment they need when they need it and force government to take action.

“A few months before he died my father, too weak to stand, said to me, ‘maybe this is what I deserve’. ‘No’, I told him, ‘nobody deserves this treatment, Dad’,” Neuhaus told the Campaigning for Cancer team on the day the public call to action, was conceptualised. This call to action will force the provincial governments to start listening, and patients to start talking.

Access to treatment denied

This year Campaigning for Cancer has sent over 50 letters to government, each copied to multiple departments on behalf of patients that are being denied access to cancer treatment. On the 26th of September, Campaigning for Cancer requested, from government, an investigation into the inadequate treatment given to Barnett Fine. The deadline for their response was the 26th of October 2012. To date, there has been no response.

“Despite the Gauteng government’s public reassurances, hospitals in Johannesburg are still turning patients away due to broken or non-functioning radiation machinery. Last week, radiation machines were again not working and patients were again sent home with little indication or assurance of when the machines would be working,” said Lauren Pretorius, CEO of Campaigning for Cancer.

“Waiting months to obtain access to treatment is entirely unconstitutional. Waiting can be the difference between life and death for cancer patients, as in the case of Barnett,” says Dr Devan Moodley, Oncologist and Medical Director of Campaigning for Cancer. “The government isn’t sufficiently committed with maintaining quality cancer care in public hospitals and this is unacceptable.”

Taking responsibility

Campaigning for Cancer advocates the rights of individual patients first and foremost – ensuring that care is obtained when needed – but due to the thousands of people who are now being affected by non-service delivery and barriers to treatment, a broader action is required by all South Africans.

“The Gauteng Department of Health and the MEC are not taking responsibility. Why has this issue not been solved? Is it a case of the MEC and the Department simply not caring?” says Pretorius.

“It’s easy to neglect those who don’t have the means to fight for both their rights and their very lives. All I wanted was for my dad to get the treatment that he was entitled to and to make sure that the little time he had left with us was pain free and comfortable. That’s not being unreasonable, is it," Neuhaus asks.

Share your story

Campaigning for Cancer is an advocacy organisation that was formed in 2008 to give South African patients and those affected by cancer a voice. Campaigning for Cancer is calling on all South Africans, patients and their families and friends, who are receiving inadequate or no cancer care, or who are upset by the way they have been treated, to please come forward and report the issue through the following national call to action:

If you know anyone who has suffered a similar disregard of their basic human rights, then contribute a photograph and a story, which will act as a petition to the government. Our aim is to put a name and a face to thousands upon thousands of people who up until now have been treated as nameless statistics. This is a problem that government should not only be aware of, but also be ashamed of. With the faces of those who’ve suffered looking up at them, they can either choose to make a difference in the face of this tragedy, or turn their backs- either way this will no longer be ignored. Share your story at

Read Hanna Neuhaus's personal account of her father's suffering

- (Campaigning for Cancer press release, November 2012)

Read more:

Broken cancer machines cost lives
No treatment for Joburg patients
Gauteng improves care in hospitals


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