Final report finds T&T cancer patients suffered severe radiation injuries at Lara Treatment Centre

(Trinidad Express) A multi speciality team of radiation experts tasked with conducting a medical evaluation of patients exposed to radiation overdoses, ranging from four to 20 per cent more than had been prescribed for them at the Brian Lara Cancer Treatment Centre (BLCTC), have found clinical evidence of “severe radiation injury”.

The final report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) January 2012 Assistance Mission to Trinidad and Tobago found that some of the 223 patients who were adversely affected by over-radiation at the BLCTC had: “clinical evidence of such severe radiation injury that an experienced clinician cannot help but think that even an approximate 15 per cent overdose may have been a contributing factor in causing an increased severity of the injuries in some of these patients”.

The report comes three years after a radiotherapy overdose incident at the private Port of Spain cancer treatment facility, owned by Medcorp Ltd, and 18 months after the PAHO (Pan American Health Organisation) concluded in a secretly-held report commissioned by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) that patients had not only been given excessive doses of radiation over an 18-month period up to June 2010, but that at the time of writing of the PAHO report in September 2010, they had not been informed about the radiation overdose or “the potential impact on their well-being and quality of life”.

When the first report of a radiation misadministration was leaked to this newspaper in July 2010, the management of BLCTC denied there was a radiation overdose and attempted to shift blame to the senior physicist who discovered the error, Damian Rudder, accusing him of sabotage. Affected patients and their families were anguished by news of an overdose, provided with confusing information about the clinical and medical physics aspects of their treatment and overdose levels and were not provided with any form of counselling or follow-up care by BLCTC or the state regulators who licensed Medcorp Ltd to operate a private radiotherapy treatment facility on Fitzblackman Drive in Woodbrook, Port of Spain.

When the PAHO audit confirming the Rudder finding was leaked to the Sunday Express ten months later, the cancer treatment facility countered that none of the affected 223 patients had been injured by the overdose. The centre, which failed to contact the affected patients, in a damage containment effort, went on to assert in full page newspaper advertisements that “no patients were found to have suffered from toxic side-effects of over-radiation”.

Forced to take a public stand by the leak of the report, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan and his CMO Dr Anton Cumberbatch, who previously did nothing with the findings of the Rudder and PAHO reports, in a hastily-called media conference on July 6, 2011, made a public call to the affected patients to return to the cancer centre which had not only over-radiated them but had failed to inform them there was a radiation overexposure and that they were at risk of late side effects of irradiation.

Khan, a medical doctor, also announced his government’s intention to have the IAEA conduct a detailed probe into the circumstances relating to the radiation overdose incident and to map out a treatment plan for the affected patients. The findings of the world authority and rigorous advocate for safety and security in the use of nuclear science and technology, the IAEA, dramatically contradict the centre’s claim that no patients were harmed beyond the complication of routine radiation therapy.

Yesterday, Minister Khan confirmed that he has had the IAEA report for several weeks now but was still to get round to reading the full report or to speak to the affected parties. He said he planned to do so soon

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