Health tragedy: Man dies after cancer was missed in 12 patients
Twelve patients who were wrongly given the all-clear for bowel cancer have been diagnosed with the disease, including a man who has since died of the illness.
The missed cancers have emerged following a recall of 600 patients who had colonoscopies - an invasive investigation of the large bowel - at Wexford General Hospital in 2013 and 2014.
One of the patients has died of bowel cancer and others are being treated for the disease, RTE News revealed last night.
The recall of hundreds of patients followed a discovery by BowelScreen, the national bowel screening programme for people aged 60 to 69.
It found that two patients who had a colonoscopy procedure in Wexford General Hospital in 2013 were discovered to have cancer in October and November 2014.
The recall of patients, prompted by the two cases, meant that some 600 patients were called back for a re-test.
BowelScreen said that up to the "end of 2014" two cases of cancer between the regular two-year screening gap were reported.
The revelation is a setback for the programme, which currently has an uptake of just 45pc among 60- to 69-year-olds.
Hospitals which are given the work by BowelScreen must be accredited and consultants who carry out the work have to agree to have their performance reviewed on a continuous basis.
The specialist who carried out the colonoscopies was placed on paid leave and is no longer carrying out the procure.
Conor MacLiam, who lost his wife Susie Long to bowel cancer in 2007 after she had to wait seven months for a colonoscopy, said last night it is essential hospitals can assure patients about the quality of the procedure.
He questioned if the necessary resources are being invested in this crucial area.
"We have a new day unit named after Susie in Kilkenny and hopefully all urgent cases will be seen on time," he added.
A spokesman for Health Minister Leo Varadkar said last night that he is "aware of this issue which first featured in the media last year".
"The minister has been briefed on the issue since early 2015," he said.
"He is concerned primarily that any cancers may have been missed. He extends his sympathy to the families involved and in particular to the family of the deceased. The minister is also concerned about the length of time the review has taken.
"He is conveying to the HSE the need to improve quality assurance so that lessons can be learned and mistakes not repeated. He has been assured that there has been full open disclosure in these cases."
Ireland remains heavily dependent on temporary radiologists because of the difficulty in filling full-time posts.
It is understood that the investigation found fault with some of the techniques involved in carrying out the colonoscopies in Wexford.
Around 950 women and 1,330 men are diagnosed with bowel cancer annually in Ireland.
BowelScreen sends people in the 60- to-69-year-old age group a letter asking them to take part in the bowel screening programme.
The test results are normal for the vast majority and they will be invited to take part again in two years.
If the result is abnormal, they are referred to the hospital for a screening colonoscopy to determine any abnormality in the bowel.
In a statement last night, the Ireland East Hospital Group said that patients in the recall had been thoroughly investigated and had been provided with full information, appropriate follow-up and treatment as needed in a timely manner.
"The subsequent report and its findings are now in the final stages of preparation.
"Once the report has been signed off, it will be sent to all parties referenced within it before it can be published," the group said.
Unfortunately we have a health service that is operated by human beings and machines - and human beings and machines make errors," Minister for Health Leo Varadkar told Newstalk Breakfast this morning.
"I want to extend my sympathies to the people affected - and the death that might have been avoided had this been picked up earlier.
"We intend to introduce a system of random rechecks to try to make sure that this doesn't happen again.
"I certainly would encourage people that, if they are called for bowel screening, that they accept the invitation."