|Patients register for examinations at the Oncology Hospital in HCM City. The hospital receives around 2,000 patients daily registering for examinations and treatment. — VNA/VNS Photo Duong Ngoc
by Thu Hang
HCM CITY (VNS) — It was 10am at the HCM City Oncology Hospital in Binh Thanh District. Tran Van Ly, a 53 year-old who had travelled from nearby Binh Duong Province, was waiting for his turn to take a hematology test.
"I think I have to wait until the afternoon as my number is 548 and there are still hundreds of patients waiting," Ly said.
It was the third consecutive day that he and his wife had waited for nearly an entire day at the hospital. On the first day, they arrived at 4am and received number 184 for a check-up. They later decided to rent a room near the hospital as they had no idea how long they would have to stay.
"It took me a day to see a doctor who told me he suspected that I had a malignant lung tumour," Ly said. "So he asked me to take some cancer tests."
The hospital is one of many in the city faced with too few beds and a shortage of staff to handle the increasing patient overload.
As a response, the city government has begun a programme to encourage hospitals to set up satellite departments at other hospitals to relieve the burden on medical staff. At the national level, the Ministry of Health has urged the establishment of satellite hospitals to improve the quality of medical care and receive technology transfer from big-city hospitals.
Ly is one of more than 2,000 patients who have registered for cancer screening at the Oncology Hospital, according to Dr. Diep Bao Tuan, the hospital's deputy director.
About 13,600 people are registered as either outpatients or inpatients at the hospital. It now has 1,600-1,700 in-patients, but only 600 beds.
Two or three patients have to share a bed in some wards. In the paediatrics department, some of the patients have to stay on a floor mat below the beds of other children.
In recent years, the number of patients has increased 7-10 per cent annually, Tuan said.
To reduce patient overload, the Oncology Hospital in late 2013 opened a satellite oncology department at District 2 Hospital. The effort is part of a larger HCM City programme to reduce the overload at five specialist hospitals by opening satellite departments.
The District 2 Hospital department has 150 beds, including 50 for children. It has 90 professional staff, including 15 doctors. Qualified doctors from the Oncology Hospital are assigned to work fulltime at the department to ensure quality of diagnosis and treatment, said Tran Van Khanh, director of District 2 Hospital.
Every day the District 2 Hospital receives more than 100 patients referred by the HCM City Oncology Hospital. Most of the patients are receiving chemotherapy or palliative care, Khanh said.
For the past year and a half, about 600 patients have been treated at the District 2 Hospital's satellite department, including 130 in-patients.
Do Tuan Khanh, an 11-year-old boy, is receiving chemotherapy at the satellite department. He was referred more than a month ago after being treated at the Oncology Hospital for seven months.
At the HCM City Oncology Hospital, he had to sleep under a bed in one of the ward's rooms. Now, he has his own bed in a four-bed room at the District 2 Hospital. With only eight radiation machines, the Oncology Hospital can only treat 500 patients a day, Dang Huy Quoc Thinh, deputy director of the hospital, said.
Patients usually have to wait more than a month for radiation therapy, Thinh said, adding that 500 patients are waiting to be treated.
Transfer of technology
Under a satellite-hospital project nationwide begun by the Ministry of Health, the HCM City Oncology Hospital two years ago transferred radiation technologies to the 175 Military Hospital, which invested in radiation machines and equipment.
Last year, nearly 900 patients were referred by the Oncology Hospital to the 175 Military Hospital for radiation therapy, a 63 per cent increase compared to the previous year.
"An average of 70 patients are referred to the 175 Military Hospital for radiation treatment every day," said Diep Bao Tuan, deputy director of the hospital.
"It helps reduce waiting time for radiation treatment as there is a severe shortage of radiation machines, which are very expensive," he said.
Under the project, the HCM City Oncology Hospital also transferred advanced technologies to treat cancer to Can Tho Oncology Hospital in 2013 and Khanh Hoa General Hospital in 2014.
Over the last two years, the number of patients at Can Tho Oncology Hospital sent to HCM City Oncology Hospital fell by 50 per cent, from 270 patients in 2013 to 140 patients in 2014.
At Khanh Hoa Hospital, surgeons perform more than 200 operations on cancer patients every year. In previous years, no more than five surgeries were conducted each year.
Tuan said the main problem facing the satellite hospitals was a shortage of oncology specialists. Doctors at the HCM City Oncology Hospital must assume the responsibility for training and transferring technology to the satellite hospitals, he said.
Luong Ngoc Khue, director of the Health Ministry's Medical Examination and Treatment Management Department, said that oncology was one of five medical fields, including paediatrics, cardiology, exterior injuries, and obstetrics, that faced patient overload.
He said that satellite hospitals were faced with making huge investments in equipment and finding qualified medical professionals.
In an effort to reduce overcrowding at the HCM City Oncology Hospital, local authorities plan to build a new branch of the Oncology Hospital in District 9 at a cost of VND5.8 trillion (US$265 million). Construction of the 10-storey building with 1,000 beds will begin this year and is expected to be completed by 2017. — VNS