Chemo shortage will not affect patients in long term, says HSE
Cancer patients across the country whose chemotherapy treatment is being delayed "would not be expected" to suffer any long-term impact, the HSE insisted last night.
The qualified response from the HSE was in reply to questions from the Irish Independent on whether it could categorically state there would be no impact on very ill cancer patients whose treatment was being postponed due to a shortage of some forms of chemotherapy.
A spokeswoman said: "There is no report of any clinically significant delay at this moment. It must be understood that patients receive chemotherapy on a weekly, fortnightly and three-weekly basis for a number of months.
"Therefore, short delays in a single cycle of treatment would not be expected to have a long-term, clinical impact."
It comes after a three-week period, during which several hospitals reported chaos as they struggled to secure supplies of chemotherapy after Fannin Compounding in Dublin had to shut down its mixing machines on October 12, due to a threat of contamination by a lethal bug.
The HSE had denied there was a shortage as late as last Thursday, but finally admitted on Friday that several patients in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, Cavan General Hospital and University Hospital Limerick were suffering treatment delays due to the shortage.
It is expected to be several weeks before regular supplies are restored. A spokeswoman claimed that "as a result of prompt action in securing alternative suppliers, most hospitals are experiencing minimal impact on the clinical service.
"Delays to date are of the order of one to two days. This is a fluid situation that changes from hospital to hospital and from day to day and, based on the information reported, has affected a very small percentage of patients."
Most chemotherapy is mixed in-house by hospitals but several have to buy in supplies. There is only one other company, Baxter, producing the product and it is planning to buy Fannins.
Asked why it denied a shortage on Thursday, following a question submitted by the Irish Independent on Wednesday, the spokeswoman said: "The response was collated from information provided by each hospital that provides chemotherapy and haemotology services.
"This information came through the hospital groups to the National Cancer Control Programme and the Acute Hospitals Division. There was an error in the collation of this data."
She said a safety incident management team was set up after the contamination scare.
"Hospitals had also immediately begun identifying alternative suppliers in order to ensure continuity of the clinical service."
A spokeswoman for Health Minister Leo Varadkar declined to say when he was informed of the shortage. Asked if he could reassure patients the delay would not affect patients' outcomes, she said the HSE had said that "no clinically significant delays were reported". She declined to say who in the department was responsible for overseeing the recall and shortage. She said it was an "evolving situation" and the minister was being continually briefed on the issue.