The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has directed Safdarjung Hospital’s radiotherapy department not to treat any new patients, after an application by the hospital’s only radiation safety officer hit a roadblock.
The directive has come into effect from November 19.
The hospital came under fire from the board after its only radiation safety officer reportedly applied for a renewal of her extension via a paper-based application, instead of the computerised system.
The AERB letter, accessed by The Indian Express, stated that its radiological safety division had received an application from the radiation safety officer in June 2014 for the extension. In its response in July, the board asked him to submit the application through its online system.
Physicists are approved as radiation safety officers by the AERB for a period of three years, said sources.
According to the AERB order, the hospital can continue to treat patients who are currently undergoing radiation “if deemed necessary by your institution.”
“All registered radiation units under our jurisdiction are well aware that our entire system is now computerised and based on an online system. The hospital was still given over a year to apply and complete the formalities, when it first sent a physical application,” said a senior officer from the radiological safety division of the AERB.
Only one of the three radiation machines in the hospital was functional. A cobalt machine and a brachytherapy machine, an advanced radiation technology machine, have not been used for the last five years as the hospital doesn’t have any radiation safety officers to operate them.
“According to AERB guidelines, one radiation safety officer is needed for every machine. We have only one authorised post for a physicist. We have tried to get more officers on contract basis several times, but we never managed to fill these posts…,” said a source.
The only functional radiation machine has been shut down after the AERB’s directive.
Over 100 new patients seek radiotherapy at Safdarjung Hospital each week and the waiting period can be as long as four to five months for some of them, said sources.
On Saturday, nearly 40 new patients had to be referred to AIIMS and the Delhi Cancer Institute.
Brijesh Singh, a resident of Rohini, said he had come for a consultation to Safdarjung after a referral from AIIMS. He had been given a date for consultation about four months ago, said Singh.
“AIIMS has a waiting list of three to four months. I was sent here as their radiation machine was not working. Now, I have been asked to go to Delhi Cancer Institute which is about 20-25 km away. I don’t know how long the waiting list there will be,” he said.
“We have received the order and will be implementing the AERB’s directives,” said Safdarjung Hospital’s acting medical superintendent Dr K T Bhowmik.
On how the board’s decision is likely to affect the hundreds of new patients seeking radiotherapy at the hospital, Dr Bhowmik said, “The medical superintendent, who is on leave, will join next week. Then we will take a decision on how to manage the patients”.
Meanwhile, the two radiotherapy machines at AIIMS have also been plagued by frequent breakdowns, considerably lengthening the waiting list of patients.
“We are already working 15-16 hours at a stretch. Patients come to us from private hospitals after exhausting all other options… many government hospitals, after an initial diagnosis of cancer, refer patients here. Obviously, when these machines are stretched to their limit, they are bound to break down,” said a senior doctor.
Lok Nayak hospital and Delhi Cancer institute are the only other government hospitals in the capital that offer radiotherapy treatment.