Five of eight breast cancer centres miss waiting time targets
FIVE of the country's eight specialist hospitals failed to meet waiting time targets for breast cancer investigations last year, figures obtained by the Irish Independent reveal.
The hospitals are expected to see 95pc of women sent by their GP for 'routine' referral within 12 weeks. But this target was missed several times during the year -- falling to just 55pc in one hospital on some months.
These women, who may have cancer, need a specialist opinion or investigation at one of the eight hospitals designated as specialist centres around the country.
The hospitals met other targets to see all women deemed "urgent" within two weeks.
But some of the centres struggled to provide appointments to the "routine" referrals -- women with less urgent symptoms but who were still a concern to their GP.
Waterford Regional Hospital failed to reach the standard several times during the year, seeing just 55.3pc of referrals in March and 55.4pc in April.
Limerick Regional Hospital also encountered difficulties and only managed to see 70.4pc of patients within the recommended 12-week period in May.
At University College Hospital in Galway the numbers seen fell to 63.9pc in September.
St James's Hospital in Dublin only assessed 83pc of women within the 12-week deadline in January while St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin saw its numbers seen drop to 86pc in February.
Approximately 25,000 women are sent for routine referral within 12 weeks by their doctors every year. Another 12,000 are classed as "urgent" and are seen by a specialist within a fortnight.
There were 2,012 breast cancers diagnosed at the eight specialist clinics in 2010 and they account for two-thirds of all diagnoses of the disease each year.
The remainder come through the Breastcheck programme -- aimed at women aged 50-64 -- or in private hospitals.
While there is no evidence that anyone suffered a delayed diagnosis, the failure to maintain deadlines, which are crucial to best practice in cancer care, is a matter of concern.
Kathleen O'Meara, spokeswoman for the Irish Cancer Society, said she would be concerned at any slippage in maintaining standards.
"It is something that has to be watched, particularly with so many staff taking early retirement," she said.
"We will be following it throughout the year. We have invested heavily this year and have developed a world-class cancer service and it is unacceptable to see that slip."