DESPITE THE years of anticipation for the first Radiotherapy Unit to open in the Algarve, the inauguration in Faro last Thursday fell rather flat. It should have been a happy, celebratory affair, but there was no ribbon cutting, no fanfare and little applause. Quadrantes, the private company responsible for the operation of the unit, in technical terms, had laid on expensive catering, with waiters circulating the room with trays of canapés and drinks, but this did little to help ease the somewhat awkward atmosphere, reports The Resident’s Caroline Cunha.
With so much controversy having surrounded the new Radiotherapy Unit in Faro, perhaps the mood at the opening was to have been expected. There have been accusations from all sides with regard to who is to blame for the delay in the unit opening (the original plan was to open it last spring), although the finger has mainly been pointed at the level of unnecessary bureaucracy involved (see related article in the June 23 edition of The Resident).
The Radiotherapy Unit in Faro was the dream of Dr. Santos Pereira, eminent surgeon and president of the Associação Oncológica do Algarve (AOA), and the planning behind the unit began 10 years ago. With cancer patients in the Algarve being forced to travel to Lisbon for radiotherapy treatment, due to the lack of a facility in the Algarve, the AOA campaigned long and hard for a radiotherapy unit to be opened in Faro.
Land to site the Radiotherapy Unit was offered by Faro Câmara and, after much lobbying, some funding was secured from the region’s 16 municipal councils, as well as from the EU. In addition, the AOA organised various fundraising activities and also received support from other charitable organisations such as the Friends of São Brás, who raised 66,000 euros through the staging of quiz nights and a Christmas bazaar, among other activities.
However, building the unit (at a cost 1.25 million euros) was only half the battle, equipment and staff had to be organised, not to mention completion of a complex licensing process to satisfy municipal, environmental, health and safety requirements, and this was aside from the inevitable involvement of politics. In fact, the central government initially blocked the project, citing that it would represent competition for its planned Hospital Central, due for construction at Parque das Cidades (the site of the Algarve football stadium built for the Euro 2004). As it happens, construction of this hospital has still not begun and the hospital is not expected to open until 2012.
Once the Radiotherapy Unit was built, there was a one-year delay in its opening while the equipment was installed and the licensing process completed, a period many considered to be excessively long.
Respected radiotherapy specialists, Quadrantes, a Lisbon based company, was the firm chosen to operate the unit, supplying the technicians and staff, as well as installing the state-of-the-art Varian machinery
40 cancer patients already received treatment
Joaquim Chaves, president of Quadrantes, the private company responsible for the operation of the unit under the name Clínica de Radioterapia e Medicina Nuclear Lda (CREM), opened the proceedings, introducing his company and thanking the AOA and the regional health authority for being given the opportunity to manage the unit.
The Radiotherapy Unit’s team comprises two doctors, eight physicians/radiotherapy technicians, three auxiliary staff and three receptionists.
Joaquim Chaves confirmed that, during June, prior to the official inauguration, 40 patients had already received radiotherapy treatment at the new unit. The majority of these patients are Algarveans who had been forced to begin their treatment in Lisbon but who have now been transferred home to the Algarve. The Quadrantes president also took the opportunity to praise the efforts of Dr. Santos Pereira and his team at the AOA, saying that, “without whom, we would not be standing here today”.
Through an agreement with the national and regional health authorities, the majority of patients treated at the new unit will be referrals from the Algarve’s main public hospitals, Faro and Barlavento. However, patients from some parts of the Alentejo, who live closer to the Algarve than Lisbon, will also be treated in Faro. Radiotherapy treatment for these patients will be free but the unit will also be accepting private patients. It was explained that agreements are currently being set up with some of Portugal’s biggest health insurance groups such as Advanced Care and Médis.
Full investigation needed?
Dr. Santos Pereira was next on the podium, and he didn’t appear to be afraid to speak his mind. “Ten years of work went into creating this Radiotherapy Unit because we firmly believed it was the right of the Algarveans to have a facility here in the region. Despite all the obstacles and scandals, the reasons for which I just couldn’t understand, we won the war. On behalf of the AOA, I must express my great pride at what has been created here, but I believe it is important to investigate better what happened, in terms of all the problems and delays, in order to prevent such a situation happening again,” he said. Dr. Pereira catalogued the series of obstacles his association had faced and even talked of “verbal terrorism”, explaining that the AOA had received anonymous phone calls and letters from people who were against the project going ahead.
In addition to representatives from public health institutions and entities, including the president of the board of administration of Faro Hospital, Ana Paula Gonçalves, the civil governor of Faro, António Pina was present, as well as several câmara presidents including the presidents of Faro, Loulé, Albufeira and Alcoutim municipalities.
Macário Correia, president of Tavira Câmara and AMAL, the entity which represents the Algarve’s 16 councils, was the next to take the microphone. Referring to Dr Santos Pereira’s request for an investigation to be carried out, Correia said, “It is important to forget the past episodes; what is important is that we are here now.” However, what he did say about the negative history was, “all those who tried to block this project should go to confession and ask for forgiveness!” He then continued: “This Unit is something great for the people of the Algarve and congratulations must go to all those involved,” and he made special mention of Dr Santos Pereira.
Next to speak was the civil governor of Faro, the highest ranked member of the government present, who commented on the “good work” that had been done and described the new Radiotherapy Unit as “a house of hope for the people of the Algarve”.
AOA’s next project
The inauguration ended on a more positive note when the president of Faro Câmara, José Apolinário, announced that the council had just donated a piece of land to the AOA, for a small reception centre with accommodation to be built close to the Radiotherapy Unit. This will offer support for those patients travelling from the other end of the Algarve and further afield, making them more comfortable during their treatment period. Full details of the project and a possible opening date are yet to be confirmed.
If you would like more information about the AOA and its activities, call 289 807 531 or visit www.aoa.pt