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A private hospital staff exposed to radiation by accident

     The Department of Health (DH) alerts St Teresa's Hospital (STH) to ensure that all irradiating apparatus operators, physicist included, must practise all necessary precautions at all times in order to protect patients from over-exposure and non-workers from unnecessary exposure, and also secure occupation safety for workers.  The warning is made as the Department investigates into an exposure accident involving a female ward assistant.

     The accident took place in the STH's oncology department on October 18 and was reported to DH yesterday (October 19).

     "Two medical physicists, after having performed quality assurance check on a linear accelerator (LINAC) in a treatment room, discovered the accidental presence of a female ward assistant through the room's close circuit television," a DH spokesman revealed.

     "LINAC is a device used in cancer radiotherapy. The radiation beam produced can be directed to different body parts for cancer cell destruction while sparing the surrounding normal tissues.

     "In connection, the common practice amongst physicists is first to scan the vicinity visually, to be followed by vocal alert before testing on irradiating devices like LINAC.

     "Immediately, DH mounted an on-site investigation. The physicists admitted that as nothing was found on visual scanning, no vocal alert was made," the spokesman said.  

     "As for the affected female staff, since she is actually working in the department, she carries a dosimeter which shows a reading of 70 microsieverts, comparable to the radiation exposure from 1.5 chest X-ray radiographs," the spokesman described.

     "What was also reassuring was that the physicists confirmed that in the particular test conducted, the LINAC was stationary. In this way, DH opts that it was unlikely that the worker had been exposed to X-ray directly. Rather, the exposure was more likely to be from scattered fields," the spokesman carefully deliberated.

     The spokesman goes on to say that "Although the level of exposure was unlikely to incur any significant health risk to the lady and nothing abnormal was detected in the medical examination performed afterwards, the Department's main concerns are staff's occupational vulnerability and the physicist's practice."

     "The Hospital is asked to submit a detailed report on the accident to the Department, with emphases on how to prevent incidents of the like in the future," the spokesman stressed.

     DH has also required STH to provide suitable counselling for the staff and also put her on medical surveillance. Investigation continues.

Ends/Thursday, October 20, 2011
Issued at HKT 21:45


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