When SK Institute of Medical Sciences here was established in 1977, one of the aims was to provide a state-of-the-art healthcare facility to people within the state at cheaper cost. Today, almost 40 years later as authorities at the institute continue to sit over installation of PET-Scan for early detection of cancer, thousands of patients are forced to visit private hospitals outside JK for diagnosis, that too at higher costs. Many patients who can't afford the costly diagnostic tests risk their life as inaccuracy in cancer detection and delay may sometimes prove fatal.
As per records around 4000 new patients were registered at Regional Cancer Center at SKIMS. In addition, 3000-4000 patients are on follow-up every month at the institute. "These patients, around 6000 in number, require to get scanned for an accurate picture of their malignancies to help doctors provide a better and more accurate treatment. But in absence of the PET facility they are forced to travel outside," said a doctor.
In the government-run health facilities, the cost of PET-Scan is around Rs 10,000 and some government hospitals, such as Delhi State Cancer Institute (DSCI) offers it for as less as Rs 5000. However, in private institutes outside, the cost ranges between Rs 20,000 to Rs 40,000. Besides, every patient travelling outside for the test is accompanied by couple of attendants.
"A cancer patient cannot travel by road. He/she has to travel by air. Then at least two people have to accompany the patient to outside hospital. Calculate the ticket costs," a senior doctor at SKIMS, privy to the plight of the cancer patients, said. The boarding and lodging outside Kashmir also added to the high expenditures incurred on PET-Scan which goes up to more than Rs one lakh per patient.
"This is apart from the problems that a patient suffers during travel to and from Kashmir," said a doctor.
For thousands of cancer patients every year, the delay in installation of the cancer diagnostic equipment at SKIMS, despite necessary approvals from Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and financial concurrence translate into a loss of over one lakh rupees each.
The doctor said that PET Scan would have omitted the necessity of cancer patients travelling to outside the state, a deal that many patients can ill-afford.
"This deliberate delay by authorities at SKIMS in installation of the PET-Scan is a criminal act as it compromises accurate diagnosis of cancer. Why should the patient go outside when we can very well provide the facility here," doctors asked.
As per experts, often private hospitals 'harvest' the patients who go outside by misleading them resulting in further financial burden to the patients.
"They (the private hospitals) convince patients to seek treatment outside the government sector citing the 'poor facilities' in State. And patients who are anyways forced outside the state for tests, take the bait," the doctor said.
"I have been witness to several cases where patients sold their property, valuables and got burdened by huge loans for cancer detection and treatment outside the state due to non-availability of the PET-Scan here. The SKIMS was meant to eliminate this helplessness of Kashmiris, which was one of the aims for creation of this institute," said an official in SKIMS administration. "It seems that SKIMS is now failing its people and the institute is falling apart."
While for a long time, SKIMS shied away from PET-Scan procurement citing paucity of funds, a few years back, funds had been arranged. "Those funds are donations from development funds kept for Members of Parliament and some renowned personalities in and outside the state," the ex-Director SKIMS SouraDrShowkat Ali Zargar had told Greater Kashmir in an interview.
Later, SKIMS was allotted the approval for the centrally-sponsored Rs 120 crore State Cancer Institute, which has a provision for installation of PET CT also.
However, the new administration of SKIMS reportedly has gone into an 'undo mode' and is virtually stalling the process of PET Scan at SKIMS by objecting to the site for which the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has given a green signal.
In a Governing Body meeting recently, as per the official government handout, the SKIMS informed the board that the matter (of PET Scan) had been taken up with Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) authorities for the necessary approval.
This, sources said, was clearly an attempt to sabotage the process of PET Scan which was in its final stages and even Minister of Health and Medical Education Bali Bhagat had given a time frame of four months for its installation in June this year.
PET-Scan images the 'biology of disorders at the molecular level' and can help doctors detect abnormalities in cells very early even before anatomic changes are visible thus allowing early and holistic detection of malignancies. As per estimates, there are approximately 50-60 PET/PET-CT centers in India. Currently North Eastern India, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh are the only states without a PET Scan facility.