PORT OF SPAIN –– The lives of thousands of cancer patients are at stake because of a racket in which millions of dollars’ worth of cancer drugs have gone missing from the pharmacy at the St James Medical Complex and the Chaguaramas Building where the Ministry of Health’s drugs are stored. The drugs, mainly used in chemotherapy, are ending up in the private offices of doctors on the “outside”, Minister of Health Dr Fuad Khan disclosed yesterday, as he told what his ministry had uncovered in ongoing investigations.
A lot of cancer victims who receive treatment at the St James Medical Complex have written to him about what they are told is a shortage of drugs at the institution, he said. The traumatized patients said to get the drugs they now had to pay very high prices for them at private doctors’ offices.
“Patients are obtaining the drugs,” he said. “Someone is giving it to them. A lot of them have written to me, but they are afraid of victimization, that they will be denied the drugs. “We are purchasing a lot of cancer medication and it’s extremely expensive, about $12,000 to $15,000 per vial. Sometimes one patient needs ten to 12 vials. They are mostly second-line drugs, which are used when first-line drugs are not effective enough.
“What we uncovered is that a lot of cancer drugs, which are in the pharmacy at the St James Medical Complex and are distributed to the wards of the various hospitals, find their way outside of the hospitals, in private medical practices.” Khan said a system had been put in place to minimize the loss of drugs, whereby both the doctor and patient at St James had to sign the prescriptions.
“Patients have to sign to receive them too. When I last checked, this system of dual signatures was in place.”