Radiotherapy unit to open this spring

THE MINISTRY of Health has finally seen sense and lifted the five-year time constraint on the functioning of the Algarve’s new radiotherapy unit at Vale dos Carneiros in Faro. Following months of uncertainty about the future of the new unit, The Resident has been informed by Dr. Santos Pereira, of the Associação Oncológica do Algarve (AOA), of the ‘Christmas gift’ that arrived through the association’s letterbox at the end of last month.

Dr. Santos Pereira spoke to us about it: “I can confirm that we have received a letter from the Ministry of Health which informs us that there is no objection to the future running of the AOA’s radiotherapy unit. I consider that this letter now replaces the previous correspondence which stipulated a five-year limit on the operating of our unit.”

Black cloud has cleared

Towards the end of last year things were looking extremely bleak for the non-profit making organisation, which had suffered a hammer blow from the Direcção-Geral de Saúde (DGS), the national health authority, in the shape of a five-year limit on operating the radiotherapy unit. The DGS decided on the short opening period as it said that the AOA’s unit would be in direct competition with the proposed Hospital Central do Algarve at Parque das Cidades, operated by a public-private partnership.

An amount of 1.25 million euros had already gone into building the unit, with funds raised by the AOA, the region’s 16 municipalities and money from the European Union. Recruitment of the unit’s medical team was going to be hampered and the sponsor set to provide medical equipment was looking likely to pull out. With the prospect that it would only run for five years, the cost of building the radiotherapy centre could not be justified.

But Dr. Santos Pereira excitedly informed The Resident that the building of theradiotherapy unit will be completely finished at the end of this month and only the finishing touches, such as work to the surrounding garden, remain. The radiotherapy equipment is on its way and will be installed shortly. Once this has been done, the association hopes to be able to move swiftly on with the final arrangements for the grand opening.

Breast screening service coming soon

It is not only good news for the radiotherapy unit. Four years after the success of the first Mamamaratona fun-run, all the fundraising efforts are about to pay off. The AOA confirms that February will see the delivery of the long-awaited mobile digital mammography unit. Once it has arrived, the AOA will begin an awareness programme to explain to patients what they can expect from the forthcoming screening service. Women between the ages of 45 and 70 are considered to be most at risk from breast cancer and, therefore, will be called up to take part in the programme.

Patient lists will be compiled from records kept by the Administração Regional de Saúde (ARS), the regional health authority, at its network of Centros de Saúde (health centres) throughout the Algarve. It is, therefore, important to register for a Cartão de Utente at your nearest Centro de Saúde, if you haven’t already, in order to qualify for the programme.

Two radiologists, along with two qualified technicians, have been recruited to staff the unit, which will be travelling around the region and will be based near the Centros de Saúde of each borough for the course of the screening sessions. After speaking to Dr. Santos Pereira, The Resident learned that the association is shortly expecting to hold a meeting with the Administração Regional de Saúde in order to receive the first patient lists.

First screening programme for the Algarve

Until now, quite surprisingly, there has been no breast screening service in the Algarve, a situation that has been of great concern to the AOA and the organisers of the Mamamaratona event. In the UK, breast screening is offered to women over 45 years old, every three years, and in the US mammograms are performed every two years. It is medically proven that early detection of the disease increases survival rate and the life expectancy of the sufferer. As well as regular screening, self-examination is very important to make sure no changes or abnormalities have occurred. The new screening programme is undoubtedly going to make a big difference to the health of the women in the Algarve and is a triumph for all those who have worked so hard to raise the funds to make it possible.

The hard work is not over, though, as Dr. Santos Pereira explained: “The AOA relies on the help of the public to continue its work. It is difficult for us to survive without people’s support.” The mobile unit’s machinery will require maintenance and the vehicle itself needs to be kept in a good state of repair to transport the unit and its personnel on a daily basis – all of which requires funding. Technicians also require the space and conditions to analyse mammograms and perform the administration linked to the screening programme. So let’s keep raising funds to ensure this crucial programme can continue for many more years to come.