Patients in need of bowel cancer tests face hospital delays
Nearly half of hospitals providing bowel cancer tests are failing to hit the recommended three-month waiting time.
About 4,000 people around the country are on waiting lists for the colonoscopy bowel tests, which are done at 13 hospitals nationwide.
But there are rising numbers queueing for many months - which could lead to delayed diagnosis of the disease - figures compiled by the Irish Cancer Society for the Irish Independent show.
It follows worrying revelations that a man, who underwent a colonoscopy in Wexford Hospital as part of the national BowelScreen programme, died of bowel cancer after the disease was missed.
Eleven other patients who are among the 600 people also recalled for a re-check were also found to have the cancer after being wrongly given the all-clear in the same hospital.
One remaining patient has yet to undergo a re-check.
Nationally, only seven of the 13 hospitals providing bowel cancer investigations are managing to see patients with potential symptoms of the disease within the recommended three-month time limit.
There are currently 218 patients waiting for a colonoscopy for more than three months in Wexford General.
And in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, 1,130 people are on the list for more than three months.
The deadline is also being breached in University Hospital Waterford, St Luke's General Hospital Carlow/Kilkenny and Tallaght Hospital.
"Since January 2015, the number waiting longer than three months at Wexford General Hospital has risen by 141, or 183pc," said an Irish Cancer Society spokeswoman.
The HSE confirmed yesterday Wexford was continuing to provide colonoscopies for patients who were sent by BowelScreen or referred by their GPs.
It is understood a doctor who performed the procedures is on paid leave.
Donal Buggy, head of services at the Irish Cancer Society, said the disclosures were a matter of serious concern.
"It represents a personal tragedy for 12 individuals and their families. It also represents an unnecessary failure in a system, which should not have happened and from which lessons must be learned. Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in Ireland," said Mr Buggy.
"Almost 2,500 Irish people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year. The early detection of bowel cancer is vital in terms of ensuring the best possible outcome for the patient.
"It is crucial that the Irish public has access to timely and quality diagnostic tests for suspected cancers.
"Anything which affects the trust of diagnostic testing for cancer patients is of paramount concern to the Society."
He said the society was continuing to monitor the situation closely.
The missed cases in Wexford relate to colonoscopies which were mostly carried out on patients in their 60s who were referred by BowelScreen in 2013 and 2014
A report is expected to show faulty colonoscopies did not cover the entire bowels of the patients.
Senior staff in BowelScreen refused to take direct questions yesterday about how it was enforcing quality control in hospitals. The HSE said hospitals providing screening colonoscopies were part of an "international accreditation process. An improvement programme is also in place to try to ensure doctors are operating within agreed internationally benchmarked standards" and this is "live" in most hospitals.
Just 44pc of women and 36pc of men avail of the test when contacted by BowelScreen.