'I was kept in the dark for days over suspect chemo treatment'
A grandmother who is battling breast cancer has asked the HSE to explain why she was left in the dark for days over a potentially lethal dose of chemotherapy.
Mary Murphy (68) from Kilcullen, Co Kildare, was plunged into shock on Thursday when she was informed over the phone by staff at St James's Hospital in Dublin that she received a potentially contaminated infusion of chemotherapy the previous day.
The chemotherapy was part of a batch produced by Fannin Compounding in Sandyford, Dublin, which was given to 200 cancer patients and was at risk of contamination by a bacteria.
Hospitals received the urgent alert about the potential danger last Monday, and should have immediately contacted patients in case they had developed life-threatening symptoms.
"I was asked if I had any symptoms on Thursday. It was a shock," said Ms Murphy, who was diagnosed in June and is facing surgery in December.
But after her case was highlighted in the Irish Independent on Saturday, she received another call from the hospital over the weekend to tell her she had actually received the suspect infusion the previous Wednesday, October 8.
"That was even more upsetting again. It was more than a week earlier I got this product," said Ms Murphy.
"Why was I not told on Monday as I should have been? Then I was in the hospital for a chemotherapy session on Wednesday and again nobody mentioned anything to me.
"I still don't know why it took so long to tell me."
Amid the fear and confusion, some patients took to the airwaves and contacted newspapers for information on Friday.
But it took until Saturday for the HSE to issue a statement clarifying that no patient had received the contaminated product after it was recalled on Monday.
A spokesman said: "The potentially contaminated chemotherapy was used in the treatment of cancer patients on the week October 2 to October 9 only."
The spokesman said that once the HSE became aware of the situation, on Monday October 11, "immediate and co-ordinated action was undertaken by all oncology teams throughout the country to contact all 200 patients concerned".
However, Mrs Murphy said this clearly did not happen in her case. She said the failure to contact her for several days left her fearing that other patients were also neglected. The HSE declined to comment yesterday.
The Department of Health said it was a matter for the HSE, the medicines watchdog and the Health Products Regulatory Authority, as well as hospitals where patients were treated.
It said the problems surrounding the recall and how the information was given to patients is under investigation.
A spokeswoman for the company said public and private hospitals were informed on Monday morning about the potential risk, which had not been identified until then.
The alert was raised after internal testing discovered chemotherapy units mixed at Fannin Compounding were made in an isolator which was contaminated with bacillius cereus. The bacteria is mostly linked to food poisoning - but it can also lead to potentially fatal infections.
The issue was identified by the manufacturer when carrying out its daily assessments of the manufacturing process using a test product.
A statement issued on Friday said: "This test product is not a medicine and is not given to patients ... A contaminated test product does not automatically mean that the medicines produced are affected.
"The equipment used in the manufacture of these products has been taken out of use pending completion of the investigation."