Sun | Jan 23, 2022

Radiation woe for cancer patients as machine breaks down

Published:Wednesday | September 8, 2021 | 12:10 AM
The entrance to St Joseph's Hospital.
The entrance to St Joseph's Hospital.

A distressed radiation patient at the National Cancer Treatment Centre has lambasted the health ministry for its lack of urgency in repairing the linear accelerator (LINAC) at the St Joseph’s Hospital facility. The breast cancer patient was at...

A distressed radiation patient at the National Cancer Treatment Centre has lambasted the health ministry for its lack of urgency in repairing the linear accelerator (LINAC) at the St Joseph’s Hospital facility.

The breast cancer patient was at stage zero at diagnosis and has undergone partial breast removal surgery.

In an email to The Gleaner, she explained that the failures at the facility fall squarely on the shoulders of the Ministry of Health & Wellness.

“The staff have been battling for months with a radiation machine that breaks down midway through treatment. How can cancer patients continue to be put under this kind of stress?” she asked.

The woman who requested that her name be withheld, as her diagnosis was only known by a small group of family and friends, said she was referred for radiation at the beginning of the year.

She visited the facility for the initial consultation but an appointment could not be set for the first radiation treatment as the machine was in need of repair.

Two months ago, she got an appointment at short notice - two hours - but showed up on time and received her first treatment.

“Fourteen further doses were to follow on consecutive days. The second day of my appointment, a very disturbed doctor came into the waiting room to tell patients the machine was down,” she recounted.

At that appointment, she was among six patients who were sent back home.

The woman also expressed concern about the effectiveness of the radiation treatment, when it has been disrupted for an undetermined period.

“What is happening? How can people be expected to heal under these circumstances?” she lamented.

Regional director for the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), Errol Greene, told The Gleaner that the region is in the process of getting the machine repaired.

“The people have to come from overseas to fix it, so we are putting things in place for them to come. The machine breaks down from time to time, as with any machine, and we do not have the capacity locally to repair it,” he said.

Greene could not immediately ascertain how many cancer patients have been affected.

“When this happens, it depends on how much of a lead time we get from the persons who repair it. But if the situation is grave, we would make arrangements with Cornwall Regional Hospital to have them treated,” he shared.

Cornwall Regional Hospital is located in Montego Bay, St James, and has the second of two machines available in the public health sector.

Patients who spoke to The Gleaner in May explained that private treatment is not readily available for individuals already receiving care through public facilities.

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com