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10 years on, nod to Rajarhat cancer campus

Construction of the Rs 650-crore Rajarhat campus of Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute, which has been in a limbo for the past decade, could start in February with the Centre promising to pay the required funds next week.

Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was in town on Monday to attend a governing body meeting of CNCI on its Hazra campus, asked the hospital authorities to speed up the construction process. “We told the Union minister that we would need 30 months to complete the first phase but he asked us to do it before that, if possible,” said Jaydip Biswas, the director of the Hazra institute that currently has 218 beds.

“At present, we have a waiting list of two to three months for radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Given the situation, we would like to finish work on the new campus as soon as possible,” Biswas added.

The new campus would start with 460 beds in the first phase and get 250 beds later. The project has been hanging fire for 10 years apparently because the Centre had not disbursed funds. It is still not clear when the second phase will start.

Welcoming the initiative, oncologists said it was better late than never because poor facilities for cancer treatment in Calcutta were taking their toll. Besides the trainloads of patients going south for treatment, the long waiting list at Tata Medical Center, a cancer superspecialty, and the state-owned CNCI point to the dismal state of facilities, they added.

“The situation is scary,” said V.R. Ramanan, the deputy director of Tata Medical Center, pitching for a way to bridge the demand-supply gap.

“Our institute is only three years old and there is already a waiting time of two months. We treat 600 to 700 patients every day. They come from all over eastern India, Bangladesh and Bhutan. We give radiotherapy till 11pm overworking our equipment but still can’t clear the backlog,” he said.

He said the hospital received as many as 13,000 new patients in 2013.

Ramanan, who was earlier with Apollo Hospitals, said the number of patients going to south India from Calcutta was alarming.

“At Apollo Chennai, we hired 12 Bengali translators because of patients from Bengal and Assam,” he said.

Surgical oncologist Gautam Mukhopadhyay said the problem was more acute in government hospitals because the economically weaker sections could seldom afford private care.

Hospitals like Medica Superspecialty, Apollo Gleneagles and Ruby hospital are in the process of increasing the capacity of their oncology wards as well. “It is a welcome move if the number of affordable beds for cancer patients increases because many patients are poor and the waiting time adds to their suffering,” said Mukhopadhyay.

Doctors said it was also important to train nurses and paramedics in cancer care because specialised skills were needed while dealing with such patients.

Apart from a new campus, Azad inaugurated CNCI’s latest buy — a high-end linear accelerator that can be used for direct deep-penetration radiation on affected cells without harming the healthy ones around them.

He also inaugurated an upgraded electrical substation that would be needed to run machines such as the high-energy accelerator bought for Rs 22 lakh and another low-energy linear accelerator that would be bought for Rs 10 lakh.

Azad announced that a satellite centre of CNCI would come up at Chandernagore in Hooghly. It would be used for cancer screening, radiation therapy and research, he said.

The CNCI governing body took the decision to open a pharmacy on its Hazra compound to sell cancer medicines at discounts of up to 50 to 60 per cent.