Patna: Bihar’s premier government hospital Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) has become embroiled in another controversy as the regular tests at the Microbiology department and Serology wing as well as cancer treatment department have come to a grinding halt causing immense inconvenience to patients from all over the state.
The cancer therapy (radiotherapy) department of PMCH had proved a respite for cancer patients, specially for those from weak economic background as it is the only hospital in the state providing free treatment. However, the dysfunctional ‘Cobalt-60’ machine (used for radiotherapy) has resulted in several patients being left without treatment. At least 30 patients are waiting for therapy since the machine stopped working in October. The same treatment costs upto Rs 80,000- 1.4 lakh at private centres for each session.
A source in the department who handles the machine said this is a very specialised treatment for cancer patients, many of whom are terminally ill. The Cobalt machine requires annual maintenance which was to be done in October but that did not happen. The technicians did not turn up for repair work as the health department already owes them Rs. 5 lakh. As a result, the pending annual payment to the company has hindered the cancer therapy. Moreover, he added, there is no fixed date for re-commencement of the service.
Department head Dr. P.N Pandit also confirmed about non-functioning of the Cobalt machine.
Several patients from Bhagalpur, Biharsharif, Gopalganj, Vaishali and Mokama have been waiting for cancer therapy which includes three steps – Chemotherapy, Radiotherapy and Surgery.
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“My mother was given an appointment last week for a radiotherapy session. But when I reached the radiology department, the employees there told me that the machine was not working,” said Raghunath Yadav, 45. Raghunath’s mother has completed eight rounds of radiotherapy and is awaiting for the rest 17.
He added, “Since November 28, the Cobalt Therapy has been stopped and the reason cited is that the Cobalt-60 machine is dysfunctional. When I asked what the problem is or when the machine will start working, the employee could give me no fixed date.”
Likewise, a few patients had just 4 or 5 rounds of radiotherapy remaining, while few were to undergo the treatment from start. As per acquaintances of patients, the cost effectiveness of the therapy at PMCH is the only hope for the distressed, but delayed treatment can seriously affect the health of the patients.
Commenting on how important the therapy is for cancer patients, a doctor at the department told NewsClick, “Cobalt therapy or Cobalt 60 therapy is the medical use of gamma rays from cobalt 60 radio isotopes to treat cancer but a gap of more than five days in cobalt therapy is certainly a threat to life of cancer patients.”
However, this is not the first time that such a problem has cropped up at PMCH. The radiotherapy department at the government-run hospital has a history of discontinued service. Earlier, there have been instances when the therapy could not be provided for non-compliance with Atomic Energy Regulatory Board’s (AERB) directives, while at other times due to non-payment of Cobalt 60 machine maintenance by the health department.
Previously, it was unused for five years due to technical faults and was re-opened in 2018. In the same year, it was announced that the hospital will be equipped with cancer treatment machines worth Rs 39 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (PMSSY) by 2019. However, even after two years, poor and critical patients still stand at the receiving end of a life saving treatment.
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Last year, the NITI Aayog, Union health ministry and the World Bank had jointly released a report in which Bihar’s health services were marked negatively. Bihar, which was earlier ranked 19th in terms of health services had slipped to 20th position.
Meanwhile, in the name of COVID-19 tests, treatment of major diseases have also been stopped since months, causing inconvenience to patients coming from far-flung corners of the state. Even basic tests such as urine, blood are not being done. The woefully under-equipped hospital is unable to provide treatment of 15 major diseases, as per a recently released Integrated Disease Surveillance Program (IDSP) report. Non-treatable diseases include Typhoid, Diptheria, Meningitis, Leprosy, Malaria, Chikungunya, Dengue, etc. The report further disclosed that no blood and urine culture tests are being conducted in the Microbiology department.
As a result, most of the patients are compelled to undergo basic tests required during treatment at private pathology labs at unaffordable rates.
Savita Devi, 40, hailing from Sitamarhi district told NewsClick that she was in PMCH for treatment of her ailing husband who is suffering from kidney dysfunction. However, she was informed that blood and urine tests were discontinued in the hospital due to COVID-19 treatment. So, she was forced to opt for private testing lab.
Further, since October, Dengue and Chikungunya tests have also been and patients have been left in lurch at the hands of private pathology centres with expenses ranging from Rs. 300 to Rs. 800 for the required tests.