Cancer test delay report is 'flawed', HSE claims
Public patients with vague symptoms which may be a sign of cancer can be worst hit by delays in getting tests, a GP has warned.
Dr Brian Osborne, a GP in Galway, said these delays can damage patients' chances of fighting the disease.
He was commenting as a report claimed a form of "health apartheid" leaves many public patients waiting for months for a test that someone paying privately can access in days.
Women with ovarian cancer are particularly at risk of delayed diagnosis, as well as patients with other gynaecological, neurological, urological and head and neck cancers.
A postal survey of 214 GPs found some patients who are waiting for an ultrasound face delays of 480 days and they can be in a queue for 125 days for a CT scan.
Waiting times for abdominal ultrasounds can extend to up to 81 days.
He also criticised the level of information GPs are getting from hospitals about their patients who are diagnosed and in treatment.
"It is haphazard. With serious diagnosis the patient may not have taken it in. Studies show you don't take in 90pc of information you are given for the first time," he said, commenting on the report from the Irish Cancer Society.
Head of cancer services in the HSE Dr Jerome Coffey insisted yesterday the report was "flawed."
He said some of the information in it is out of date as the HSE was now providing direct access to ultrasound to all GPs for public patients along the western seaboard, although this is not fully available in Cork. Dr Mary Laffoy of the HSE cancer service said one of the problems was finding staff to provide the scans.
Dr Coffey insisted: "The report is flawed in some respects in that it did not give GPs a chance to differentiate between an urgent and routine referral.
"Urgent cancer referrals are prioritised. Our own research shows that the wait-time for a breast consultation is within 10 working days, the median wait-time for an urgent pelvic ultrasound was found to be 2.5 days, the wait time for an urgent chest X-ray is approximately two days."
Bowel cancer survivor Shane Kirwan, a shopkeeper in Drimnagh in Dublin, said he counts himself among the lucky ones.
He suffered from cramping and constipation, prompting him to go to his GP.
He was referred to St James's Hospital where he had a colonoscopy to examine his bowel within weeks.
"I ended up having surgery to have very early cancer removed and I needed no other treatment," he said.
He is grateful that the day he was discharged his daughter Heidi was born and he has the chance to see her grow up.
"I know others are not so lucky. Things could have been different for me," he said.