Doctors at JPN Hospital and Safdarjung Hospital here have appealed to the Government to pay attention to the plight of poor cancer patients who are unable to receive life-saving radiation therapy because of lack of physicists at both the health centres.
While at JPN Hospital the radiation unit has been shut down for over a year now, the unit at Safdarjung Hospital has been functioning at less than half its capacity for over six months after a notice was issued by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) last December asking it to run machines according to the staff available.
The only option then available to cancer patients from the economically backward section of society is the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences or the Delhi Cancer Society in Shahadara, both of which are already burdened with patients.
A cycle of radiation therapy lasting 30 days costs Rs. 40,000 or more and because of the shut down of radiation units at JPN and Safdarjung hospitals many poor patients are either forced to wait for their turn endlessly or simply opt not to go in for therapy.
“At Safdarjung Hospital we usually cater to the poorest of poor patients who cannot often afford even basic medicines and proper nutrition, leave alone bear the cost of expensive cancer treatment. After getting a notice from the AERB, which noted that we did not have enough physicists to run the three cobalt and one brachy therapy machine, we had to downsize to running only one cobalt machine. So from handling 200-300 per day we now can offer treatment to only 70 to 80 cancer patients,” said a senior doctor at Safdarjung Hospital.
The hospital administration claims that it had written to the Health Ministry in February this year indicating lack of staff to run the unit and suggested that the pay of the physicists be raised from Rs.14,500 per month to Rs. 37,000 per month which would ensure that the hospital has enough staff to run the unit.
The Health Ministry is yet to respond to the letter forcing several poor cancer patients to wait for treatment, it said.
Doctors at JPN Hospital too have pointed to the suffering of cancer patients waiting for therapy. They often have to go without treatment because of its high costs and long waiting list.
“We have informed the Delhi Government about the status of the two radiation machines in the hospital and are yet to get the unit functional. The unit has been shut down for over a year due to lack of staff. We understand the concern of the poor patients when they have to return from the hospital without treatment,” said a senior doctor at JPN Hospital.