Cancer patients treated at the Gozo hospital have died from chemotherapy toxicity because treatment was carried out “without necessary expertise,” according to the former head of Mater Dei Hospital’s Oncology Department, Stephen Brincat.

Carrying out chemotherapy without necessary expertise is asking for trouble

In a letter sent to The Sunday Times, he insisted he recently resigned from his post because his advice on various important issues, including how to introduce chemotherapy in Gozo, was ignored.

“In the past we have had people dying in Gozo from chemotherapy toxicity because this was done there without the necessary expertise and that is a bitter experience for all concerned,” he wrote in the letter sent in reply to a statement issued by the Health Department on Friday evening.

Chemotherapy toxicity is rare and results from the side effects of chemotherapy.

Currently there is no chemotherapy treatment in Gozo. However, in the past, some people were treated there at their request and there were cases of death by toxicity, he said.

Prof. Brincat said carrying out chemotherapy without necessary expertise is asking for trouble.

A spokesman for the Health Department said severe medical reactions could happen anywhere, whether in Malta or Gozo.

“The most important thing is that these reactions are handled well by trained personnel,” he said.

The spokesman added that Prof. Brincat had not trained doctors and nurses working at the Gozo Hospital to handle such situations.

Prof. Brincat said the lack of training was due to a dearth of resources as, for the first 22 years of his career, there were only two oncology consultants. There are now three.

On Thursday, Prof. Brincat listed the reasons that led to this resignation as acting chairman of the Oncology Department. He will remain working there as a consultant.

These included the manner in which chemotherapy was being introduced in Gozo, the merging of the Oncology (cancer) and Haematology (blood disease) Departments, and keeping the National Cancer Plan secret from the professionals who were to implement it until its official launch.

In the statement, the Health Department said Prof. Brincat resigned on his own accord over disagreements with the department.

It said he had “strongly opposed” attempts to introduce chemotherapy in Gozo, on the premise that Gozitan medical and nursing staff did not have the required expertise.

Responding to this, Prof. Brincat said the Malta Cancer Foundation, which he set up, had provided virtually all the chemotherapy-related equipment at Sir Paul Boffa cancer hospital from public donations. The foundation also bought the first blood analyser for the Gozo Hospital.

“And yet they now say there is no chemotherapy in Gozo because I have obstructed it,” he said, adding that the Health Department’s statement, which attempted to discredit him, “is dishonest on several counts”.

He insisted he had given the Health Department a plan on how to introduce chemotherapy in Gozo to make best use of limited expertise. This would have taken four to six months to implement properly. But the Health Department wanted it done in one month.

In the statement, the department strongly denied Prof. Brincat’s claims that the National Cancer Plan was not discussed with professionals before its launch saying there had been extensive consultation.

Prof. Brincat stuck to his statement: “I asked for a copy three weeks prior to its publication and was refused. There are no two ways about that,” he said.

Referring to the merging of the Oncology and Haematology Departments, the Health Department said this was in line with modern clinical practice.

Prof. Brincat said haematology referred to the study of all blood-related disorders, most of which had nothing to do with cancer.

“The Health Department is, of course, perfectly free to organise its departments as it wishes, just as it was free to take us to Mater Dei via a three-year detour to Zammit Clapp.

“On the other hand, I am at perfect liberty to disagree and resign. I think by now it is amply clear who the public believes and no amount of spin is going to change that,” he said.

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