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THE cobalt radiotherapy unit at the state-owned Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), which in January this year broke down, stalling the treatment of hundreds of cancer patients, is back in service.

An average of 30 patients are now being treated there each day, Chairman of the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), Tanny Shirley, has said.

The state-owned Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) where the cobalt radiotherapy unit broke down in January this year stalling the treatment of hundreds of cancer patients.

TOP: Tanny Shirley.


In January, the Jamaica Observer reported that the Government would have to fork out $28 million for 55 patients to be treated privately because of the malfunctioning of the cobalt unit, while another 400 languished on a waiting list for treatment.

At the time, Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson had told the Observer that the unit would be back up and running within two weeks.

Last Friday, Shirley said there had been a time overrun on the job, but the unit had been repaired within cost.

“The unit is running pretty good and we have been seeing quite a lot of persons. If my memory serves me correctly, I think it went under the $28 million and all patients were seen… It was back in service after comprehensive repair on the 13th of February and since then we have been seeing patients averaging at least 30 patients per day,” the SERHA Chairman said.

He said every effort was being made to balance the treatment between the 400 persons on the waiting list and new cases.

“They are a mixture, a lot of attention was placed on patients who were on the waiting list and, as you can imagine, those patients were the patients who were more critically ill, so there had been some collaboration with them. So, some of those patients were also sent to be assessed and then taken back and treated by us, so we are seeing many of those patients as we speak and we have been doing new patients in-between,” he told the Observer.

He was unable to say directly how many of the 400 have so far received attention, but said the 55 for whom the private treatment had been arranged had been seen and treated.

“I can safely say everything is under control and we are moving along as planned,” he said.

The health minister said in January that costs were to be presented to the health ministry for it to decide whether to seek money from the National Health Fund or “go to the private sector with open arms to ask them for assistance”.

Friday, Shirley said because of the urgency of the situation the National Health Fund had supplied the $28 million for the treatment. He said in the meantime, the Ministry is seeking private sector funding to look at acquiring a more advanced cobalt unit.

“We are trying to finalise the cost, we are on the market searching for a unit. I cannot give you the exact cost, but the likely cost would be an estimated $45 million. We have been sending around and asking various persons to assist us and we have been getting some promising responses so far,” he said.

A 2007 Health Sector Task Force commissioned by former health minister under the previous Jamaica Labour Party Government, Rudyard Spencer, and chaired by Dr Winston Davidson, summarised that “the public sector continues to use outdated cobalt radiotherapy units at the Kingston Public Hospital and Cornwall Regional Hospital”.

The task force was mandated to undertake a comprehensive review and evaluation of the regional health authorities and their related entities, with recommendations on the way forward to a cost-effective, comprehensive and sustainable health care delivery system for Jamaica in the 21st century.


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