Gauteng Health cancer tender raises red flag – Juta MedicalBrief

Gauteng Health cancer tender raises red flag - Juta MedicalBrief

The narrow window of an “abrupt” Gauteng Health tender for oncology radiation services has raised concerns, with Cancer Alliance saying many private sector radiation therapy companies missed out on an opportunity to help the thousands of public sector patients desperately needing potentially lifesaving treatment.

The province has a backlog of around 3 000 patients awaiting radiation therapy, reports News24, so red flags were raised after the rapid issue and closure of a key tender for the outsourcing of the treatment.

The tender for the outsourcing of the services for breast and prostate cancer patients was issued on 20 October. It included a compulsory one-hour briefing session on 27 October in Johannesburg, and then closed on 3 November.

But Cancer Alliance, which brings together roughly 20 cancer non-profit groups, said some of the largest health companies did not even know about the tender and missed the compulsory briefing session.

Given that the briefing was held just a week after the tender was issued, many companies were unaware the tender had been issued at all, said the organisation’s Salomé Meyer.

When the companies queried whether they could still bid without attending the briefing session, they received the following message: “Failure to attend the compulsory briefing session would render the bid non-responsive.”

Meyer said consequently, the pool of companies to which the department can now outsource the radiation treatment is far smaller than what is available.

Ernst Marais, COO of Icon Radiotherapy, said his company did not attend the compulsory briefing as they did not know about it. Icon is the largest private-sector radiotherapy provider in South Africa.

While he welcomed the tender, he was concerned about the two-week time-frame to submit bids. He also queried why a compulsory briefing session was scheduled within the first week.

Marais said that in the past, tenders to outsource radiation therapy had given respondents around four weeks to reply. Two weeks was cutting it short.

He added that, given the large backlog for radiation therapy treatment in Gauteng, “multiple parties with spare capacity” would probably be needed.

Two weeks’ notice 

The briefing documents noted that Charlotte Maxeke and Steve Biko hospitals are the only state facilities in Gauteng providing comprehensive oncology services. Both are facing severe shortages in personnel and equipment.

Meyer acknowledged that Gauteng Health doesn’t have to issue an alert to the private sector when it puts out a tender. But not doing so went against the collaborative approach to improve cancer treatment in Johannesburg, she said.

Cancer Alliance, SECTION27 and the Treatment Action Campaign, have been trying, since 2021, to reduce long cancer-treatment waiting times in Gauteng.

Meyer said all parties had agreed to a “collaborative approach” between non-profit groups, the Gauteng Treasury and the Department of Health, and this collaboration had already shown signs of success.

In March, Gauteng’s MEC of Finance, Jacob Mamabolo, allocated R784m to the Health Department to “urgently” address a backlog in surgical and oncology radiation services, thanking Cancer Alliance and SECTION27 for working with his department to bring the problems to light.

He also praised his department’s work with the advocacy groups as an example of a successful “collaborative approach with civil society”.

Meyer said that, given this history of close collaboration, it was extremely surprising the department had put out the tender without telling anyone.

“It literally makes nonsense of the agreement of collaboration,” she said. “The concern is that with radiation oncology services in the country being on their knees, this was a perfect opportunity to work together to find a solution.”

Meyer said that since all parties had met in July to try to hash out an agreement on how to proceed with the tender, she had not heard anything from the department.

“Despite all our efforts, they have cut off all communication,” she said.

The Gauteng Department of Health did not reply to News24’s requests for comment.

The department has been rocked by various corruption scandals over recent years. In the past year, the Auditor-General’s report said it had racked up R2.26bn in irregular expenditure while failing to spend R2.7m of its budget.

News24 article – Concern as Gauteng health dept’s ‘abrupt’ cancer tender excludes large groups (Open access)

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

Cancer Alliance research: Gauteng state hospitals’ failures hamper treatment

Gauteng partners with private sector to reduce cancer backlog

New radiotherapy machines in storage while Gauteng patients are turned away

Johannesburg protest march over neglect of cancer patients