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Rs 20-crore radiation machine caught in red tape for 3 years

While the country observes National Cancer Awareness Day today, those suffering from the disease may not be aware that a state-of-the-art Linear Accelerator (LINAC) machine costing Rs 20 crore which could alleviate their sufferings has been lying unused at the state-run Cama Hospital. The reason it has been gathering dust is because of alleged bureaucratic wrangling.


Help at hand: A Linear Accelerator machine. Representation Pic

The machine has reached the oncology centre in Cama Hospital and officials claim that it only arrived last month. But going by Union State Minister for IT, Communication and Shipping, Milind Deora’s reaction, the wait seems to have been much longer. Deora claims that lethargy on the part of the concerned officials has ensured that all efforts to see persons afflicted by the dreaded disease getting the right treatment have been in vain.

Deora said, “On August 22, 2009, we laid the foundation stone for a radiation oncology centre at Cama Hospital. My father Murli Deora, who was then union petroleum minister, succeeded in getting a fund of Rs 20 crore under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) from GAIL India limited, for the first-ever and most-expensive machine to treat cancer patients in a state-run hospital. We even had to invest additional efforts to ensure that the fund came to Mumbai and Cama Hospital got the best, but it has all been in vain.” Deora added that he has constantly been following up the matter with the concerned officials and was told last month that the infrastructure was ready.


Slow progress: Murli and Milind Deora laid the foundation stone for a radiation oncology centre at Cama Hospital on August 22, 2009.  File Pic

“A meeting was held with the chief minister and BMC commissioner to expedite the matter. The city had to wait for such a long time to get the best treatment and even three years after the project was kicked off, the machine is still lying unused,” Deora said.  He added that it is unfortunate that despite working so hard and procuring the funds for setting up a state-of-the-art cancer treatment unit, nothing is moving at ground level. “We have done our part, but the hospital administration and state authorities need to be more proactive when it comes to implementation of such turnkey projects meant for public welfare,” he said.

Deora has even suggested that in future, corporate funding under CSR should come with a clause clearly mentioning that if the project is not completed within a stipulated period, all funds should be refunded to the corporate. Suresh Shetty, state protocol minister, who also played a role in starting the oncology centre at Cama, said, “It is unfortunate that after investing so much effort and procuring the best machine for oncology treatment in the city, it has not been put to use even after three years.

The state government should actually give a free hand for implementation of such mega projects, by clearing permissions and removing bureaucratic hindrances especially for projects involving public health. At times, I feel that we lack political will, which is very evident in this case. The delay is solely because of political support for a good cause.”  Dr T P Lahane, dean Sir JJ Group of Hospitals, said, “The machine arrived last month and is being installed at Cama Hospital. We have requested AERB to conduct an inspection and give their approval, without which we cannot operate the machine.”

When asked what the reason for delay was, Lahane said, “The project was on hold for nearly nine months awaiting the heritage committee’s approval. It was only after I took over as dean of JJ Group of Hospitals that the work started moving ahead.” 

Sources at Cama hospital are not sure when the machine would be ready to treat patients. A doctor said on condition of anonymity, “We receive between 75 to 80 patients per day for preliminary cancer screening. Being the largest government hospital, patients are referred to us from peripheral hospitals. Had the linear accelerated machine been operational, it would have definitely helped in treating many cancer patients.” When asked if they have adequate manpower and technical expertise to operate the LINAC, the doctor replied in the affirmative. He said that a doctor of the rank of associate professor is heading the department and assisted by two other doctors, a radiologist, attendants and nurses.

The machine meanwhile is under lock-and-key in a room specially designed to safely house such high-end radiation equipment. Dr A U Sonawane, head Radiological Safety Division, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) said, “It is unlikely that the hospital’s request for installation of the linear accelerator machine has been pending with AERB for such a long time. 

This is only possible when there is some technical hindrance. Under the Atomic Energy Radiation Protection Rule 2004, AERB may issue license 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 and if found satisfactory. Delay, if any, may be from the end-user’s side, who is also expected to play a proactive role and provide all clarifications sought by AERB, to avoid any unwanted delay.”

Another AERB officer said that AERB had granted permission for construction of a room for the LINAC to be installed at Cama and Albless Hospital on March 18, 2010. “An import authorisation certificate was issued to the hospital on January 19, 2011 to procure the machine from M/s Varian Medical Systems, USA. And upon installation the hospital and vendor both need to inform AERB accordingly,” the officer said.

When asked if officials of Cama had informed the department about any such developments after the machine was procured, the officer said, “We are digitalizing our records and unless we check the records physically, it would be difficult to comment.”

A spokesperson for GAIL India, said, “We have been appraised about the delay. We had donated the money for procurement of the machine to treat cancer patients in 2009 and have been told that the same would be functional after getting clearance from AERB.”  

Pin-point treatment
The LINAC is the most commonly used machine for external beam radiation treatment on cancer patients and is used to treat all parts or organs of the body, without damaging surrounding tissue. The LINAC delivers high-energy X-rays to the patient’s tumour and treatment can be designed in a way that cancer cells are destroyed, but the surrounding normal tissue is unaffected.  LINAC is the latest treatment technique as compared to the Telecobalt Isotopes System used earlier, and uses gama rays instead of isotopes.” 

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