They say that nothing comes for free. But the Delhi State Cancer Institute (DSCI) not only provides free of cost medication, but also treats about 700 patients, including 40 new cases, everyday.
A posh private hospital in its look, this super-speciality hospital located in the eastern periphery of the Capital caters to the middle-class who cannot afford treatment at private hospitals.
For general category patients, all treatment at this autonomous institute set up by Delhi government in April 2006 is completely free. This includes tests, medicines, stay and food, irrespective of whether they have a BPL card (below poverty line certification) or not. Patients also have the option of choosing private treatment, but this too is available at 30-40% of the cost of treatment at a private hospital.There are 29 private beds for people who want privileged services.
With its four operation theatres under construction, DSCI currently offers only medical and radiotherapy treatment. But after the OTs are ready by April-end, the hospital plans to start a surgical unit.
By the end of 2012, the hospital administration is hopeful of having a complete cancer care set-up in place. Currently, the surgical gap is bridged through tie-ups with GB Pant, Lok Nayak, Swami Dayanand and GTB hospitals.
A leukemia (blood cancer) patient in the general ward, for example, can get chemotherapy using Imatinib Mesylate free of cost, while patients in private wards have to pay less than Rs. 2,000 for the same facility.
At a private hospital, chemotherapy using the same anti-cancer drug costs Rs. 7,000 per cycle, with a minimum of six to eight cycles needed.Similarly, a chemotherapy cycle of Oxaliplatin to fight gastrointestinal cancer that costs Rs. 15,000 at a private hospital, is free for general ward patients here.
"We procure the drug directly from the manufacturer. The benefit is transferred to patients," said Dr RK Grover, director, DSCI.
Even expensive drugs such as Herceptin, used to treat breast cancer patients after standard treatments fail, are available at reduced rates to private category patients.
"Once the manufacturer's patent ends this year, generic players can enter the market, making it possible for us to give it for free to poor patients and at one-third the cost to general category patients," he said.
Free treatment is what helped Samsher Akhtar, 8, who had a brain tumour.
"I was told about this hospital by a man while I was waiting in a one of the long queues at Lok Nayak's cancer centre," said Kamran Akhtar, Samsher's father, who is a daily wage labourer and lives on the outskirts of Delhi.
A tech edge
Thanks to the hospital, even poor patients such as Akhtar have access to cutting-edge cancer-fighting equipment. This includes three linear accelerators with intensity, modulated radiation therapy and image-guided radiotherapy treatments.
The most basic of tests for tumour markers that cost between Rs. 12,000 and Rs. 15,000 at a private lab are priced at R300 and Rs. 500 for private patients. While all medicines are free for poor patients, people opting for private wards roughly get over a 50% discount on the printed rate.
Easy on the eyes
Unlike the standard green-and-white paint in most government hospitals, all four cancer OPDs at the DSCI are painted a different colour.
The hospital also uses a unique electronic queue-management system to ensure that patients do not have to wait. After registration, the barcode on the OPD card is scanned to generate an OPD number with a colour bar to help patients identify their room (red, blue, green and yellow).
"Colour-coding not only makes the process of finding the doctor easy for the patient, but also livens up the hospital atmosphere," said Dr Grover.
'Doctors here keep me feeling positive'
Saroj Rani, 30
A primary school teacher from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh
A teacher at a private school, Rani was heartbroken when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer, late last year.
"I did not know what to do, when doctors told me I had cancer. My husband and I make enough to live comfortably but this disease was a bolt from the blue," said Rani, who is undergoing chemotherapy at the day care centre at DSCI.
"I think more than the disease, what sapped my strength was the impending treatment costs," she said, adding, "For a middle class family, cancer treatment is beyond means. So when a friend told me about this hospital two months back, we took the first train to Delhi."
"I opted for the general category treatment as it was a day care treatment, which did not require any hospitalisation. Since we spend so much on the travel, I did not want my husband to spend on my medicines too," she said.
Rani who first came to the hospital in November last year, has been coming to DSCI every two months.
"I feel very low at times. I was especially sad at the loss of my hair, but the doctors here are really nice. They help me boost my confidence and keep me positive. I want to get well for my children. They need me," she said, as tears welled up in her eyes.
'Hospital is high-tech, and staff is friendly'
Anil Agarwal, 52
A wholesale medicine distributor from Shamli in Uttar Pradesh
Neither did he have the strength to stand in long queues to avail free services, nor did he have the funds to go to a private hospital, so Agarwal, a wholesale medicine distributor, opted for a semi-private bed at DSCI.
He found DSCI after he spent over Rs. 6 lakh at three private hospitals on lung cancer treatment, which he was diagnosed with 10 months ago.
"We were mentally devastated. Although cost was a factor, the lack of personalised care at corporate hospitals worried us. That made this hospital a godsend," said Amit Mittal, his adopted son.
"When someone told us about this hospital, we dismissed the idea thinking that it was a government set-up and things would move very slowly. But escalating treatment costs forced us to change our mind. After we came and saw what this facility had to offer, we knew we were in safe hands. The centre is high-tech and very neat and clean. The nursing staff is friendly and the hospital food is also good," he said.
"Doctors are taking good care of me, and I will be fine soon," said Agarwal, holding back tears.
"In my previous hospital stay, which lasted 15 days, I had seen the face of the chief consultant once. Here the doctor pays a visit every day," he said.