Only 12 cancer patients were treated in 2022 at Hospital La Paz with the most advanced machine in Spain, donated by Amancio Ortega | Madrid
The most advanced machine in Spain for the treatment of cancer has been operating since December 2021 in a center attached to the La Paz public hospital in Madrid, but only a dozen people were treated in all of 2022, according to internal documents to which EL has had access. COUNTRY. It is a negligible use compared to that of other hospitals in the world that have the device, the MR Linac Unity, which have used it on hundreds of patients in its first year of operation. This state-of-the-art system costs nine million, which was donated by billionaire Amancio Ortega and was triumphantly presented by President Isabel Díaz Ayuso. One of the few who have been treated with this machine is a director of the hospital leadership, who was the only patient receiving daily sessions at the beginning of this month and whose identity has been omitted by this newspaper in compliance with the laws that protect patient data.
While this machine is underused, almost 1,500 patients were treated in 2022 in three other radiotherapy devices of a less advanced generation in La Paz, according to information from the hospital that this newspaper has. MR Linac Unity uses magnetic resonance imaging to obtain a precise image of where radiation therapy will be applied to destroy cancer cells. This is a crucial advance because earlier machines use X-rays to image the tumor and MRI paints a much clearer picture, allowing healthy and damaged tissue to be distinguished. According to Hospital La Paz itself, the new machine it is more precise, less toxic, and leaves less sequelae in patients.
A hospital spokeswoman defends that this low number of patients is justified because it is a very sophisticated system. “It requires highly qualified personnel, with very specific training that works with a team that does not exist in any other center in Spain,” says the spokesperson. “The learning curve for the use of this equipment is approximately two years, according to the standards established at the last world meeting held in Switzerland.” In addition, the spokeswoman adds that the indication of the patients that can be treated in this team are very specific. “There are quite a few technical and anatomical limitations, in addition to those derived from the type and size of the tumor.”
However, several hospitals around the world that have shared their experience with the machine have overcome the learning curve much more quickly. The Gangnam Severance Hospital in Seoul, South Korea, has reported that, since its opening in August 2021, it has treated 390 patients. Between 15 and 25 patients a day have received sessions in this Asian center. An Australian public hospital, Austin Health, celebrated last week that it had treated its 1,000th patient since the machine began operating in June 2021.
Nor is the type of tumors treatable with MR Linac Unity so limited, according to the Swedish company Elekta, manufacturer and marketer. On its website, Elekta reports that the equipment is used for more than 40 types of cancer, including prostate, liver, rectum, pancreas, and lymphomas.
Elekta is one of the leading companies in the treatment of cancer and has been marketing MR Linac Unity since 2018. An Elekta spokesperson, Raven Canzeri, has assured this newspaper through an email that the number of patients seen per day varies from hospital to hospital and the type of cancer being treated. “However, the system shortens the total treatment time for patients, reducing it from several weeks to as little as five days.”
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Among the 125 hospitals that have purchased MR Linac, there are the most advanced centers in the fight against cancer in the world, such as the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, or the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, both in the US .
The Community of Madrid created a lot of expectation for the arrival of this machine. The general director of Infrastructures, Alejo Miranda de Larra, nicknamed it “the cucumber” in 2019, when it was acquired. It cost nine million euros, but the Spanish billionaire Amancio Ortega donated the money through the foundation that bears his name. To put it into operation, a complex hospital engineering project was needed, supervised by the Nuclear Safety Council, as it was a radioactive facility. The machine was installed in the Hospital Carlos III, which is part of the La Paz complex and is located one kilometer southwest of the main building, near the Cuatro Torres. Part of the radiotherapy team traveled abroad for training.
When the big day of the presentation arrived, on December 17, 2021, the Community of Madrid published a press release in English, an unusual gesture. The Madrid president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, presented it to the media a few days after the first patient had used it. After highlighting that Madrid’s public healthcare is at the forefront of the world, Ayuso highlighted that the new machine was a “unique system in Spain, a true technological challenge, one of the most advanced, if not the most advanced in the world in this precision”. The president stressed that MR-Linac was “more effective, less traumatic and faster.”
The La Paz Public Hospital launches a breakthrough in the fight against cancer.
With the new magnetic resonance-guided radiotherapy machine, we will achieve great precision and speed as well as a better quality of life for the patient. pic.twitter.com/J7jsIY3QD3
— Isabel Díaz Ayuso (@IdiazAyuso) December 17, 2021
“Cancer affects 32,000 people from Madrid and this is going to be a great advance for the 60% who need radiotherapy,” he continued. “The implementation of all this equipment places the La Paz hospital as the one with the best technological endowment in all of Spain and a benchmark in Europe.”
Before Ayuso, the hospital manager, Rafael Pérez-Santamarina, and the head of the Radiation Oncology service, Rosa Morera, also spoke. Pérez-Santamarina highlighted that the MR Linac Unity made La Paz “the most advanced in public health in terms of technology for radiotherapy treatments.” And he added: “MR Linac is the new paradigm of radiation treatment, which has arrived to revolutionize the way of understanding radiation oncology.”
On a normal day, the previous technology machines that work in La Paz are used in more than 30 patients each, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., according to the documents accessed by EL PAÍS. Meanwhile, the new device has been used many days by a single person first thing in the morning, and, as many, by none. Radiotherapy sessions last between 20 and 30 minutes per patient in both the old and new systems.
The arrival of the new machine at the radiotherapy oncology service in La Paz has coincided with a labor dispute within that unit. According to the Comisiones Obreras union, there has been a high number of long-term sick leave for psychological reasons among doctors and technicians who handle the devices. CC OO says that hospital management has known about the problem for a long time but has not acted.
Correction: In a first version of the article, the caption of the photo that opens the news incorrectly identified Antonio Zapatero, Deputy Minister of Health, as the Minister of Health, Enrique Ruiz Zapatero.
Do you have information? Write to the author at [email protected] or via Twitter to @FernandoPeinado
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