Hospital has Rs 20-cr radiation machine, but no one to man it

On the occasion of National Cancer Awareness Day, this paper had reported that a state-of-the-art Linear Accelerator (LINAC) machine worth Rs 20 crore has been gathering dust at Cama and Albless Hospital, mired in red tape (‘Rs 20-crore radiation machine caught in red tape for 3 years’, November 7).

Spurred into action by the report, the hospital had written to the AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) for permission to start use of the machine. The AERB has sent back its reply, delineating the several reasons why the hospital wasn’t granted a licence to start operating the machine that could alleviate the sufferings of many a cancer patient.

Spurred into action: The application for a licence to use the Linear Accelerator machine, which is lying unused at the Cama hospital (above) since three years, was sent to the board after MiD DAY had reported on the delay

According to senior AERB officials who spoke to MiD DAY, they received a letter dated November 19 from the hospital’s medical superintendent, asking for permission to put the machine into use. On Friday, they sent a response to the hospital pointing out their shortcomings. If the hospital cannot rectify them in 15 days, they will have to reapply for the licence.

Impact: MiD DAY’s article on the machine, dated November 7, 2012

To begin with, the hospital doesn’t have an adequate number of trained staff members to handle the high-end machine. “The Atomic Energy Radiation Protection Rule (AERP) 2004 says that adequate and well-trained manpower is mandatory for the operation of this machine. Since they have two machines, we expect them to have at least one radiation oncologist and two radiation therapy technologist manning each machine. Since they do not have the required manpower, their request has been rejected,” revealed an officer.

Since the machine has been lying at the hospital unused for several months, the performance tests sent for it by the hospital are also out of date. “We have now asked them to submit the latest test reports,” said the officer.

Dr A U Sonawane, head of the Radiological Safety Division, AERB said, “As per the AERP rules, there is a minimum staff requirement to handle such a facility. If the number of medical physicists, radiology safety officers, radiation technologists and qualified oncologists are not on the hospital’s rolls, then even if the machine is in good and operating condition, AERB won’t issue the licence to the hospital for its operation. Also the other points raised by the AERB need to fulfilled. Once these provisions are in place, our experts would revisit the matter.”

When asked if this meant that the facility would be inaccessible to the public for even longer, Sonawane replied, “Under the Atomic Energy Radiation Protection Rule 2004, AERB may issue licences within a period of 180 days if all records are found satisfactory. However, we ensure that permission is granted within 30 to 60 days on receipt of application, if all the requirements are in place.”

Another officer added, “Since the funding for the project was announced in 2009, the hospital had all the time to recruit the required manpower and should have had all requirements in place before the actual machine was procured.”

The hospital’s superintendent Rajshri Katke was unavailable for comment.

Dr Dilip Nikam, associate professor and head of the department at the hospital, said, “I am out of station for a conference and am unaware of the happenings in Mumbai.”

Government explains
A senior Mantralaya official said, “The state government had made some appointments, but the shortlisted people haven’t yet collected their appointment letters. Hence the delay.”

A state minister who played a crucial role in procuring the funds for the machines, said, “The state government can hire technicians and medical experts on contract basis. Even if they don’t have required number of staff members, they can rope in technical and medical experts from other major hospitals to start the process.”  

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