This follows investigations which were conducted by officials from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) for the ministry on the mis-calibration of the centre’s liner accelerator, a device used for external beam radiation treatments for patients with cancer.
It is used to deliver a uniform dose of high-energy x-rays to a patient’s cancerous tumour. These x-rays can destroy the cancer cells while sparing the surrounding tissue.
Minister of Health Dr Fuad Khan yesterday said the ministry received a complaint from a bond-certified medical physicist, on June 28, 2010, about a possible mis-calibration of the liner accelerator, over a period of approximately 12 months, with a radiation reading ranging from four to 20 percent over the recommended dosage.
The ministry engaged the support of the PAHO to investigate the complaint, Khan said at a press conference at the Ministry of Health, Park Street, Port-of-Spain.
A report stated that during the PAHO investigation the centre’s radiation oncologist said the centre was aware of the possible “calibration discrepancy”.
“However there were no records of action taken by the centre to notify any patient of this possible mis-administration. Nothing of this nature has been communicated by the Brian Lara Cancer Centre to the ministry. We found no evidence that the Brian Lara Cancer Centre has made any effort to notify the involved patients of the mis-calibration incident and potential impact on their well-being and quality of life,” the report said.
Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Anton Cumberbatch, addressing reporters, assured that instructions were given to the centre to get in touch with all patients who were exposed and to look over their medical reports to determine the risk of radiation exposure. “Monitoring patients who are exposed to radiation extends to three to five years. It is possible that in the initial six months or first year there may not be any symptoms. Depending on what you were treated for the risk of the exposure may be greater,” he said.
Cumberbatch also said the preliminary reports from the PAHO consultants indicated the majority of patients may not have been at any risk at all.
“But there are a couple who may be more at risk and we are keeping our eyes on those,” he added.
Cumberbatch also noted that since then, the linear accelerator has been fixed and was functioning properly. “There has been no under or over exposure since June 2010,” he said.
Although the minister and the CMO did not name any patient who was at risk, it has been previously reported that well-known bar owner Ricardo “Smokey” McKenzie died last year after suffering from extensive radiation damage from treatment for brain cancer.
McKenzie, 56, co-owner of the popular St James pub, Smokey and Bunty, passed away at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida, on December 21.
His widow Lisa last evening said he had undergone treatment at the Brian Lara Cancer Centre as part of a procedure to have surgery to remove the brain tumour.
He subsequently had to seek treatment in Florida, after suffering radiation damage. Commenting on the findings of the PAHO report Lisa told Newsday she was “happy” because finally justice has been served and her husband’s death did not go in vain.
“My family has been through a terrible ordeal for five months and finally I feel its over,” Lisa said.
She had previously called on the ministry to release the report to the public.
The Health Ministry has been developing radiation protection legislation to ensure the safety and protection of patients receiving radiation treatment for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes, as well as health workers, since 2006, Khan disclosed.
“The ministry has also developed a radiation protection and safety policy which will be forwarded for Cabinet’s shortly,” the minister said.
All attempts to reach officials of the Brian Lara Cancer Centre and its parent company, MedCorp, for comment on the findings were unsuccessful yesterday.