MOST countries in Europe have at least one hospital that uses the Leksell Gamma Knife: a device that treats brain tumours and lesions with radiation beams instead of invasive surgery. But while Health Minister Ivan Valentovič acknowledges its advantages, he has blocked a doctor’s plans to create a health facility in Slovakia that uses the device.
Neurosurgeon Mário Rattaj learned how to use the Leksell Gamma Knife abroad. After he gained experience using the technique, he returned to Slovakia and purchased one of the machines on credit with his friends.
But Valentovič halted their efforts to use it here. The ministry and the public health insurance companies say the facility would not be worth the costs, because only a few patients travel abroad for the treatments each year.
Last year, Slovakia’s health insurance companies covered 17 Slovak patients for Leksell Gamma Knife treatments in Prague.
But Roman Liščák, a senior consultant at Prague’s Na Homolce hospital, said there could be hundreds more patients who would benefit from the technology, because few doctors recommend treatment abroad.
“Judging by the number of citizens, the number of people cured yearly could be 400,” he said. “Maybe even more, as people with metastasised cancers are rarely treated.”
The country’s private health insurance companies and neurosurgeons agree, according to statements that the ministry asked Rattaj to submit.
“We support the foundation of a facility that uses a Leksell Gamma Knife,” the Slovak Neurological and Neurosurgeons’ Company wrote.
“The association of insurance companies including Apollo, Dôvera, Európska Zdravotná Poisťovňa (European Healthcare Insurance Company) and Union embrace the incentive to create such a facility,” said the statement from the private healthcare insurance companies.
The companies said they were prepared to sign contracts with Rattaj if the treatment prices would not be higher than they are in the Czech Republic. Rattaj said they would not be.
In the end, the ministry refused to include Rattaj’s proposed facility in its network of health institutions, saying it would increase costs for health care. Ministry spokesperson Silvia Balázsiková did not answer a request from the Sme daily to specify what information the ministry used to make its decision.
According to the Leksell Gamma Knife Society, about 50,000 patients are treated with its product yearly all over the world. There are more than 30 of the machines in Europe, including four in Italy, two in Austria, and one each in Romania and Croatia.