Tata Memorial Hospital, the country’s top cancer treatment facility that provides free care to thousands of patients, has now taken over the Railway Cancer Hospital in Varanasi at the behest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is a Member of Parliament from Varanasi. The 101-bed hospital, officially the Indian Railways Cancer Institute and Research Centre, is located in Varanasi’s Lahartara locality.
It receives non-railway patients as well, especially from tire North-East, but because of lack of infrastructure, most patients are referred to other hospitals, mainly Tata Memorial. A few months ago, the Tata Memorial top brass was asked by the Prime Minister’s Office whether it can take over the Varanasi hospital from the railways, as there has been several complaints about the lack of infrastructure and expertise. “Around 20,000 patients are registered at the Varanasi facility every year and the hospital authorities do not have experienced doctors to tackle advanced stages of cancers.
When the PMO asked whether we will be able to take over the facility, we immediately said yes,” a senior Tata Memorial Hospital official said. Besides running the Varanasi hospital, Tata Memorial is also setting up another 250-bed hospital in Varanasi, which is a part of its expansion project that will see hospitals with similar facilities in Chandigarh, Guwahati, and Visakhapatnam (‘Tata Memorial to open four cancer hospitals’, MM, January 30). Dr Kailash Sharma, project co-ordinator and director of academics at Tata Memorial, confirmed the development.
“We have indeed taken over the cancer hospital at Varanasi from the railways, and the revamp has begun. The process to appoint oncologists, onco-surgeons and support staff has begun. Once the team is in place, it will be trained at our Parel hospital,” Sharma said. Senior Tata Memorial officials added that the revamped hospital could begin operations within three months. “Initially, we will focus on head and neck cancers, bone cancer, breast cancer, and setting up of a paediatric ward,” Sharma said. “The structure is in place but we need to set up equipment, operation theatres, etc.
Around Rs 80 crore has been sanctioned to revamp the hospital and we are hoping to start in January,” Sharma said. He said this was the first time that Tata Memorial was taking over an existing facility. “The authorities felt the railways were struggling and asked us to step in as we have the necessary expertise to run such facility. We are up for the challenge,” Sharma said.
While officials from Indian Railways Cancer Institute and Research Centre were not available for comment, the Tata Memorial sources said for the last several years, most patients visiting the Varanasi facility have been referred to Tata Memorial because of lack of facilities at the Railway Cancer Hospital. “Patients referred here from Varanasi say the infrastructure is crumbling even as the number of cancer cases is rising,” said a source, adding that the facility’s name could be changed to Homi Bhabha Institute for Cancer Treatment and Research.