Head of hospital doctors’ union calls for ‘exemplary punishments’ in cancer drugs case

The revelations of a black market trade in cancer drugs were a “bombshell” for healthcare and justice needs to make an example of those responsible, so that patients do not lose their faith in hospitals, the head of the Union of Hospital Doctors of Greece (EINAP), Matina Pagoni, said in statements to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency on Monday.

“I believe that justice must speed up the processes involved so that the guilty parties are given exemplary punishments, while the disciplinary boards must mobilise at the same time, so that they are struck off their respective registers as soon as possible,” she said.

Part of the responsibility also lay with hospital administrations, Pagoni added, wondering how it was possible for them to be unaware of what was happening for so long.

“Supposedly, we had new adminstrations installed in hospitals so they would do a better job than the previous ones,” she added.

“Cancer patients must on no account lose their faith in hospitals, because they must know that there are exceptions in all sectors and not all doctors, pharmacists and nurses forget the oaths they have taken,” Pagoni said.

She also expressed hope that there will be better monitoring of the way drugs are dispensed to both out-patients and hospital patients from now on, “and that hospital administrations will stir themselves to finally do the job they were appointed to do.”

Pagoni ended by urging the health ministry to also “assume its own share of responsibility for this affair.”

‘Rage and questions’ among cancer patients, Greek cancer federation reports

The reaction to the affair among cancer patients is “justified rage and questions about how it was possible,” according to the Hellenic Cancer Federation (ELOK). According to the federation, which represents 28 cancer patient associations in Greece, there was also shock and horror that some people had consciously elected to put their own self-interest above the health and lives of cancer sufferers, depriving them of life-saving drugs and further burdening a struggling national health system for profits.

“We have repeatedly reported that, due to shortages of drugs that appear from time to time, there are gaps in the treatment plan for patients with cancer. It is unacceptable that, at a time when patients were forced to go from hospital to hospital to find the drugs they need or seek them through the social media, or even suffer inexcusable delays in their treatment, that some people were able to easily misappropriate vital, expensive and extremely potent medication,” the group said. The case highlighted the fact that there was no internal monitoring system for how such highly expensive cancer drugs were dispensed, it said.

Greece’s Financial Police last Friday announced that 21 people had been arrested and another 14 were facing charges for engaging in the black market trade of highly expensive prescription medication – mainly drugs for treating cancer – that had been fraudulently obtained from Greek hospital supplies.

Among those arrested were two doctors, two nurses, several pharmacists and three ring leaders aged 70, 57 and 64 years old.

The Financial Police are also investigating the possible involvement of another eight individuals in the case.

Operating since April 2013, the ring misappropriated the drugs by fraudulent means, through fake prescriptions and other methods, and then sold them to pharmaceutical wholesalers in Germany, Switzerland and Italy at almost double the price of purchase. The group was run by a 70-year-old Egyptian national living in Germany, who was acting in collaboration with a pharmacy manager, who arranged for the illegal exports and fake invoices used.