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Dr Khan, what is my cancer-stricken sister to do?

THIS is an open letter to Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan.

Sir, on December 19 you announced in the Senate that enormous sums of money were owed to private health institutions because Regional Health Authority patients were being referred to private facilities. Essentially you have taken away the ability of doctors to outsource their patients even when the Regional Health Authority is unable to provide necessary services.

My sister has cancer and she attends the National Radiotherapy Centre. She was treated with chemotherapy for approximately 13 months but the lump did not diminish in size.

While undergoing treatment her heart was damaged and her physical condition deteriorated alarmingly. Unable to get really adequate answers to our questions we consulted a private cancer specialist who recommended that the lump be removed, and that on completion of surgery she return to the National Radiotherapy Centre for radiation therapy.

In October the excision was performed but since then her radiation treatments have not begun and there have been two more new lumps detected. The National Radiotherapy Centre cannot do the therapy because the radiation machine is out of commission. Earlier last year the radiology machine was down for two months and patients received no service.

The centre cannot tell us when the machine will be back up so we do not know when the current situation will be rectified. Since my sister is unable to receive radiotherapy at the government facility the only other alternative is to place her back on the same chemotherapy that was ineffective the last time she took it; or she gets the radiation done privately. We cannot afford that.

Dr Khan, you say that the sums of money given to the private facilities would be better utilised upgrading current facilities but over the years neither this administration nor the last has significantly improved the existing facilities.

Some years ago my mother experienced a similar event and was denied surgery because there was only one working respirator available at the Port of Spain General Hospital. This is not a new problem but instead of addressing the inability of older health care facilities to adequately provide for the health-care needs of this nation your administration is building new facilities.

Dr Khan, private treatment is not an option for us, so your policy of stopping referrals to alternative health facilities has denied my sister the possibility of other more aggressive treatments and has effectively sentenced her to death. Is that the plan for all desperately ill patients in the National Radiotherapy programme?

Mary Beckles

via e-mail

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