The chief minister's cancer relief fund is bringing more pain than relief to patients, who have been battling the disease for long.
A long list of formalities and an unending wait for approval of the amount for treatment after submitting the application have turned the scheme into a form of harassment for most patients and their families.
According to the current rules and instructions, the relief fund covers the cost of treatment up to Rs. 1.5 lakh and only from the date when the patient's application is approved. Cost of treatment incurred before the date of approval of the application is not covered.
Before their applications are approved, most patients would have already spent money beyond their limit. Some patients also die before the amount is approved and in such cases the expenses incurred on their treatment is not reimbursed later to their families.
Nearly 70 to 80% of cases are diagnosed in the last stage of the disease and such patients die within a short time not being able to avail of the relief fund.
Mohinder Singh of Leemwali village in Mandi Roran Walai near Fazalika district in Ferozepur is suffering from cancer of the jaws. With meagre financial resources at his disposal, he is close to death. He has spent nearly Rs. 80,000 on treatment, but so far has not been reimbursed the expenses from the Rs. 60,000 sanctioned under the fund. His family members say he has been undergoing treatment for seven months, but most of the money was spent from their pocket.
"My husband Dharma Singh has spinal chord cancer," Gurmail Kaur, a resident of Malla village in Faridkot district, says. "We have spent over Rs. 1 lakh on his treatment. On June 19, he was sanctioned Rs. 1.5 lakh for treatment. But most of this amount is useless for us as the medical superintendent's office considers medical bills only from June 19; old bills are not covered."
Avtar Singh, a resident of Chand Baja village, is getting his mother treated for breast cancer since 2006. He calls the scheme useless because it does not cover most of the treatment costs.
Ashok Kumar, a resident of Kotkapura, has no money left to buy medicine that costs about Rs. 3,200 and was prescribed on July 10. "I spent around Rs 80,000 on treatment of penile cancer, mostly by borrowing or taking a loan," he says. "My parents are dead and I am living with my two children. My wife works to support the family. I submitted my file in April this year and got a call from the civil surgeon's office to check with the department concerned in Guru Gobind Singh Medical College in Faridkot."
"It is difficult for patients to make use of the approved amount," Amarinder Singh, a resident of Sangat Mandi, says. Amarinder is getting his father treated for kidney cancer. "Besides the cancer, it's formalities, which are killing patients. Most patients are poor and illiterate and they do not know what to do. Even I have to visit the hospital so many times to get the amount from the fund."
"Either all costs incurred by patients from the day of submission of the file be covered by the fund or they be given free medicines," said Kultar Singh, former sarpanch of Sandhwan village.
"The delay of up to six months to get the file approved is hurting patients."
Shavinder Singh Gill, vice-chancellor of Baba Farid University of Medical and Heath Sciences in Faridkot, said, "Patients do not understand the instructions of the government that their costs are covered from the date when their amount is sanctioned by the Chief Minister's Cancer Rahat Kosh Society's head office in Chandigarh. I shall look into the matter and find out if there is any problem with the medical college in Faridkot regarding this."