Facing the media: NCAHS chief executive, Chris Crawford (R), and North Coast Cancer Institute director, Associate Professor Tom Shakespeare (L), break the news.
Facing the media: NCAHS chief executive, Chris Crawford (R), and North Coast Cancer Institute director, Associate Professor Tom Shakespeare (L), break the news. Coffs Coast Advocate

Seventy patients exposed to radiation overdose

COFFS Coast cancer patients have been overdosing on radiation for more than a year, after a radiotherapy machine at Coffs Harbour Hospital was found to be calibrated incorrectly.

More than 70 patients that received radiation for skin and breast cancers between August 2007 and January 2009 were given higher doses of radiation than intended by a Linear Accelerator radiotherapy machine at Coffs Harbour Integrated Cancer Care Centre.

North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS) chief executive, Chris Crawford, said the patients received an elevated level of radiation of up to 4.8 per cent - just 0.2 per cent under the acceptable variation laid down by Federal guidelines.

Human error has been identified as the cause of the incorrect calibration.

“I apologise that the treatment these patients received was not in accordance with the treatment plan set down by their radiation oncologists,” Mr Crawford said.

“Patient medical records have been reviewed and these additional checks indicate no adverse patient outcomes caused by the slightly higher doses administered.”

But Mr Crawford did say that 'some' patients that received the higher doses of radiation have died, though he added that 'in palliative care you would expect some patients would decease over this period'.

North Coast Cancer Institute director, Associate Professor Tom Shakespeare, said some of the patients had received multiple treatments of the higher dosage.

NCAHS has launched an independent review to check that patients did not suffer any adverse outcomes, how the error in the calibration occurred, and what action needs to be taken to ensure the error is not repeated.

Despite monthly checks of the Linear Accelerator, the error was only identified on 5 January during an annual quality assurance check.

The patients administered elevated doses were receiving ionising radiation therapy using electrons, and patients treated with photons have received the correct dosages.

Mr Crawford also said that a second Linear Accelerator will be delivered to Coffs Harbour this year.

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