The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Drug-short hospitals turn away cancer-hit

Cancer patients are increasingly being turned away from state hospitals due to non-availability of essential cancer drugs, lack of beds and a rule that permits only indoor patients to get medicines and the rest only prescriptions and advice. Also, drugs like Ifosphamide, Epirubicin and Taclitaxel — essential second-line drugs for cancer of the ovary, head, neck, breast and lungs — are unavailable.

Departmental heads at Medical College and Hospital and SSKM Hospital, who get the bulk of cancer patients in the state, have decided to ask the government to permit outdoor patients to get cancer medicines. Nearly 4,000 new cancer patients flock to Medical College and Hospital, which has only 32 beds. Another 8,000 are turned away. SSKM has only 50 beds for cancer patients.

Director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee said: “We are working on several plans to improve cancer treatment in city hospitals.” The government, it is learnt, is looking at SSKM as an example, where authorities recently convinced the health department to allow them to provide insulin to outdoor patients, which was once banned.

Currently, about 82 beds are supposed to cater to over 20,000 patients flocking to the two hospitals. The rest do not have any cancer facility. NRS Medical College and Hospital has only a day-care centre for cancer patients.

The oncology departments at SSKM and Medical College and Hospital daily receive about 50-60 cancer patients each, in the outdoor department, from places like Krishnagar, Berhampore and Kultali. “We have no choice but to give them a prescription,” says the head of department (radiotherapy)Medical College and Hospital, S. Gangopadhyay.

Some hospitals accommodate cancer patients in other wards, where basic cancer medicines are not available.

Some help has come from cancer support groups, comprising mainly patients themselves. “The support group is the only hope of patients flocking to hospitals, as the law does not permit them to get medicines until they are admitted,” Gangopadhyay added.

Subhendu Jana, 62, a progressive colon cancer patient, had arrived from Bongaon at Medical College and Hospital. After waiting in vain for a bed for a week, the Barisha Kishore Sangha, a support group, finally helped him with free medicines.

The scenario is the same at SSKM, NRS and National Medical College and Hospital, where, according to rough estimates, more than 30,000 cancer patients flock every year.

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