Chemotherapy sessions at the San Fernando Oncology Centre were cancelled and scores of desperately ill patients were turned away yesterday because the pharmacist who mixes the drugs called in sick.
The patients have been on a schedule since February when one of the two pharmacists at the hospital resigned to take up a new position with the Tobago Regional Health Authority. Since then, there has been only one pharmacist in San Fernando so the number of patients getting chemotherapy has been reduced from 26 to 13 daily, a source said. Instead of five days a week, sessions have been reduced to three days a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Many of the patients at the centre can’t afford chemotherapy sessions at private facilities which can range from $5,000 to $65,000, so they have to wait their turn to get treatment at the hospital.
Patient Devika Maharaj-Rajbally said she was baffled as to why only one pharmacist is serving hundreds of patients.
“They need to have more pharmacists at the centre because we are suffering. Cancer is a painful sickness and lots of times we cannot even get the medication,” she said.
Maharaj-Rajbally appealed for Government to intervene: “They need to change the Health Minister. People are paying taxes and yet we cannot have basic medication.
“Every day people are suffering at the hospital. The doctors and nurses treat us with love and care but they cannot help us because they do not have the medication to give us.”
Another patient, Mary Bissoon, who was sitting outside the Oncology Centre with her husband Charan, said they have spent thousands of dollars to get treatment privately.
“Sometimes we cannot even get blood tests done because the hospital doesn’t have the reagent to test the blood. I spent $500 to get blood tests done privately.
“I had to pay $4,500 to have a CT-scan done because the hospital machine was not working,” she said.
Bissoon said she is not convinced by Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh’s assurances that cancer drugs will be available by the end of the year and called for the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) to hire another pharmacist.
Anil Gosine, CEO of the SWRHA, said training of two new pharmacists started last week.
“Full oncology services should come on stream by the fourth week of May,” he said.
Gosine said it was impossible to fill the vacancy earlier because the pharmacist has to be specially trained to use the bio-safety cabinet for mixing the chemotherapy drugs.
Last week, Deyalsingh announced that T&T’s first cancer registry will be established by the second or third quarter of this year. He said once that happens there will be no more drug shortages.
SOURCE: www.guardian.co.tt (Radhica Sookraj)