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Chemo concerns

Published:Sunday | June 24, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Public sector doctors call for an end to exposure dangers when preparing treatment for cancer patients

Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter

Government-employed doctors are calling on the State to address the poor conditions under which medical professionals have to prepare chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients who seek care in public hospitals.

In a list of claims penned by the medical professionals, a copy of which was obtained by The Sunday Gleaner, they argued that they are being "exposed to toxic chemicals daily while mixing chemotherapy in conditions that are way below standards set worldwide".

"Most mix chemicals without gowns, flimsy masks, no face shield and flimsy gloves, hence they inhale the toxic chemicals, get splashed in the face, carry it around on their skin and clothing all day" read a section of the list of claims prepared by the disgruntled doctors.

The doctors are also taking issue with what they allege is their being asked to do what is essentially the job of a pharmacist.

"Chemotherapy preparation is not the responsibility of doctors. It is the responsibility of pharmacists. It is a drug," the document said.

Though highlighting that the preparation of the chemotherapy treatment should fall under the purview of pharmacists, the doctors said they routinely take on the task for the sake of the patients.

"The pressure all around is to get the job done regardless of the risk it poses to us. This is unfair and extremely harmful. And it adds to an already overwhelming workload," said one doctor who asked not to be named because staff orders prohibit medical professionals from speaking to the media.

Sources close to the situation told The Sunday Gleaner that doctors from all levels of the medical profession - consultant physicians, medical officers and interns - have raised concerns about the inadequacies in the working environment.

The document also stated that hospitals in Jamaica have no protocol for the handling of these substances. "No protective gear is routinely provided and no instruction is given for safe handling, neither are risks associated with handling discussed in any formal setting.

"Ideally, the chemicals should be mixed by a pharmacist under a negative pressure hood with adequate protective gear - chemotherapy gloves, gown, mask and face shield," read another section of the document.

The document also pointed out that the University Hospital of the West Indies is the only facility with a negative pressure hood but it is only used for outpatients.

"However, when the chemicals are mixed on the wards the hood is not used. It is mixed in an open room where all who enter or pass by inhale the toxic fumes. In other places it is mixed in closed environments with little ventilation to the detriment of the handler," the doctors charged in the document.

The Ministry of Health has so far failed to respond to the concerns raised by the health professionals.

The Sunday Gleaner forwarded an edited version of the list of the allegations of the doctors to the health ministry on June 14, but more than one week later we were told that officials there were still preparing a response.