“Sorry, we can’t help you. We don’t have any more medicines in our stocks.”
This has been the stock statement issued by cancer specialists for the past three weeks to hundreds of patients queuing up at major state-run hospitals every day. An acute shortage of essential cancer drugs has badly hit patients dependent on medicines supplied by the government or donated by cancer support groups.
Of late, the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, which boasts of having Asia’s oldest cancer facility, is finding it impossible to meet the demands of its 40-odd beds and nearly 175 cancer patients reaching its outdoor department every day.
“The medicine crisis in the hospital is acute. We have no alternative but to send the patients away. Although the government provides essential cancer medicines, like endoxun and cysplatinum, to patients who fall under the free-bed category, the supplies have all dried up,” admitted Subir Ganguly, head of radiotherapy department, Calcutta Medical College and Hospital.
The government, however, does not provide any medicine to outdoor patients and the hospitals depend on assistance from cancer support groups, like the Behala Kishore Sangha and cancer survivors, officials add. They help their fellow patients with donations in the form of medicines.
The radiotherapy unit of the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, which receives such donations on a regular basis, also helps out various departments of RG Kar Hospital, National Medical College Hospital and the Belur Shromojibi Hospital.
The stock of medicines from donations has also run out, causing severe problems to the patients, many of whom flock to the state-run hospitals from the fringe areas of the city as well as the districts.
“The help from cancer support groups has been enormous. But, right now, we have no medicines to offer to either patients or doctors of other hospitals,” said Ganguly.
The scarcity of medicines is also evident at RG Kar Medical College and Hospital, which runs an outdoor department for cancer patients. “There is a shortage and we hope the government meets the demand quickly,” said Gautam Mukherjee of RG Kar and secretary of the Association of Health Service Doctors.
Things are no better in other hospitals. The head of radiotherapy at NRS Hospital, Kalyan Bhattacharya, said: “I hope the irregular supply of drugs will be rectified soon.”
At SSKM Hospital, patients are being told in advance that they have to buy anti-cancer drugs. “Most of the 50-strong beds in the hospital are paying… The patients know that they have to fetch the medicines on their own,” said surgeon superintendent Deb Dwaipayan Chattopadhyay.