Private clinics reject claims of mishandling of cancer drugs

Call for tighter regulations, amid fears patients and staff exposed to dangerous fumes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 3:14am

Private cancer-treatment clinics yesterday rejected allegations by pharmacists that their safety measures were inadequate to protect patients and staff.

However, both sides backed calls for guidelines to be drawn up, after the Society of Hospital Pharmacists found 19 clinics in commercial buildings handling chemotherapy drugs without taking adequate precautions.

Yesterday, six of the clinics that the society suspected lacked safety equipment for intravenous chemotherapy, said they had "safety cabinets" for the cancer-causing chemotherapy drugs.

Cabinets prevent drug fumes from leaking into the air, and bacteria from contaminating drugs.

Dr Yau Tsz-kok, an oncologist at one of the six clinics, switched from a public hospital to private practice in Hang Lung Centre in Causeway Bay earlier this year.

In his experience, not all hospitals required bacteria-free "clean rooms" for chemotherapy drug-handling procedures.

But society president William Chui Chun-ming, a pharmacist at a public hospital, said all hospitals followed international standards of using "clean rooms" for handling chemotherapy drugs.

From pictures he had seen, Chui said most of the safety cabinets in private clinics were ones used in laboratories, not fully enclosed to protect staff and patients, and prevent drug fumes from leaking into the building ventilation system.

The Food and Health Bureau has now appointed a committee to review regulations covering private medical organisations.

The Environmental Protection Department said it would advise on ventilation systems needed to ensure the public's health.

With regard to clinic staff's safety, the Labour Department said it already conducted regular inspections at medical organisations, and would follow up those named by the survey.

Private medical practices are already under scrutiny after an intravenous treatment at a DR Beauty centre left one woman dead and three in hospital.

Medical-sector legislator Dr Leung Ka-lau said there were now no laws governing these procedures in private clinics.

Dr Wesely Shiu Cho-tak, whose clinic in the Yip Fung Building in Central is one of the 19 in the pharmacists' report, said it had no safety cabinet, but used disposable filtered venting needles to prevent drug leakage.

Dr Kevin Loh Kai-tsu, who provides intravenous chemotherapy at an Admiralty Centre clinic with safety cabinets, could not estimate the level of risk any exposure to these drugs entailed.

The other clinics did not respond to inquiries.

"There is no study showing medical staff processing these drugs have a higher chance of getting cancer, but theoretically, there is the risk," Loh said.