Natalspruit Hospital battles cancer screening backlog

Cervical cancer is the second most common form of cancer among South African women (File photo)
National guidelines for cervical cancer screening say women must have a pap smear once every ten years and annually if they are HIV positive.
National guidelines for cervical cancer screening say women must have a Pap smear once every ten years and annually if they are HIV positive. (File photo)

Khensani Nkosi* claims that she and many other women were recently turned away from the hospital after they had arrived for scheduled gynaecological appointments. Nkosi has been referred to the hospital for a colposcopy after a July 2014 Pap smear came back with abnormal results.

As part of a colposcopy, doctors use a binocular microscope to examine a woman’s vagina and cervix for lesions that may be cancerous. Depending on the results, doctors may chose to remove, or biopsy, small sections of tissues to test for cancer.

Natalspruit Hospital is the only public health facility providing colposcopies for women living in surrounding communities like Vosloorus as well as those residing farther afield in Germiston, Alberton, and Heidelberg.

Nkosi adds that it is the second time she has been turned away from the hospital

“I came to the hospital in August last year and was given a date for February,” says 40-year-old Nkosi from Buhle Park. She adds that when she returned in February, she was turned away again and told to come back in April. This appointment was later cancelled and rescheduled for May, she alleges.

She says she has endured months of pain and discomfort during sexual intercourse and wants to know what is behind her symptoms.[quote float= right]“I want to know what is happening in my body, whatever it is, is eating me up inside”

“I want to know what is happening in my body, whatever it is, is eating me up inside by the time they help me it will be too late,” she tells Health-e News.

No time to lose

According to national cervical cancer screening guidelines, women 30 years and older should receive a Pap smear at their local clinics once every 10 years. Due to a higher risk of cervical cancer, women living with HIV should receive a Pap smear annually.

According to Linda Greef director of the advocacy organisation People Living with Cancer, a patient like Nkosi should wait no more than two weeks for a colposcopy following an abnormal Pap smear result. She adds that a private sector patient could expect the process to take half as long.

“We often hear that they don’t get results on time (and that) patients are not consulted timeously,” she says. “This young woman can die if she doesn’t get treated on time (and) it is unreasonable for her to wait six months just to get a colposcopy”.

Gauteng Provincial Chairperson for the AIDS lobby group the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) Sibongile Tshabalala has confirmed it has also received reports of women being turned away from the hospital due to a doctor shortage. According to Tshabalala, the hospital board blamed a shortage of gynaecology specialists.

The Gauteng Department of Health has denied that Nkosi and others were turned away in February saying that no appointments were scheduled on that day. The department has also denied her claims that she was given an April date that was also cancelled.

Gauteng Department of Health spokesman Prince Hamnca has confirmed that the hospital has four gynaecology specialists but attributed the backlog to the fact that one of these specialists was given additional duties in July 2014.

He added that the hospital then appointed a new doctor who has started seeing patients on the waiting list. He said the hospital was working to address the waiting list. – Health-e News.

*Name changed upon request.

An edited version of this story was first published in The Star newspaper.


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