Watchdog 'gave good review' to ease cancer move
HIQA reassured hospital it wouldn't be 'failed on technicality' to smooth over service transfer
THE independent health watchdog, HIQA, has been accused of "constructing" a favourable review of University College Hospital, Galway (UCHG), to help smooth the much-opposed transfer of cancer services there from Sligo General Hospital.
Notes of a private meeting show the health watchdog privately reassuring the Galway hospital on how the review would be conducted and that the hospital would not be "failed on a technicality".
Hospital managers were also told in advance that the reviewers would not try to "catch the (cancer) centres out" and would not send out "inappropriate signals" about the transfer of cancer services from Sligo to Galway.
Marc MacSharry, a Fianna Fail senator in Sligo who campaigned to retain cancer services in the county, obtained the note under the Freedom of Information Act. He said that the contents called the integrity of HIQA, the HSE and UCHG into question.
He said the note "appears to show how the so-called independent body that sets and assesses standards was going to construct something to ensure that the candidate was assured of success."
The notes were taken by HIQA at a meeting with UCHG in June last year against a background of huge opposition to the transfer of breast cancer services from Sligo. The Galway hospital was designated one of the eight centres of excellence. HIQA was reviewing cancer services in all eight centres to make sure they met the required standards before patients were transferred.
The notes record that hospital managers were unhappy with a critical interim report, which had already been completed. "Galway believes the interim report was a poor reflection of the actual situation," it said.
But HIQA advised that the "next part of the review will have a more rounded approach" and "reassured the team that they will be informed about how the review will be conducted".
The note continued: "Other members of the team are nervous about the review. HIQA will construct something that will allow the reviewers to dip into details on certain aspects but will not aim to catch the centres out. Surgeon is concerned that HIQA may fail a centre on a technicality. JB advised that that will not be the case."
The meeting notes also recorded that there was "huge willingness in Galway to deliver a quality programme which is at odds with the political situation." It noted that great progress had been made in building relationships with Sligo and went on to note that:
"HIQA can help to reflect this externally and Galway/HIQA believe it is important that there are no inappropriate signals sent out via the quality review programme." The details of the meeting were included in a document entitled Galway University Hospital -- Implementation Plan and was dated June 3 2009. Those present at the meeting included the general manager and other senior medical staff from the UCHG, Tony O'Brien of the National Cancer Control Programme and Jon Billings from HIQA.
A HIQA spokesman said this weekend that the meeting with Galway was part of a process in which the authority worked with the eight designated cancer centres to help them to meet the required standards. "We wanted to make sure the hospitals were able to get up to standard," the spokesman said.
"We said openly that we would be working with the hospitals to do that."
A final review of the eight designated cancer centres, published in February, gave an overall endorsement of cancer care while some improvements had to be met.
The HSE was ordered to release the documents relating to the transfer of services to Galway, including the interim report to Mr MacSharry by the Ombudsman, having initially been refused. He said the horse had already bolted with cancer services now transferred but he said it was clear that the interim report showed that Galway wasn't ready to take on new patients from Sligo. Had the information been known at the time, cancer patients would not have been transferred there.
"As a representative of Sligo, I wanted to ensure that if breast cancer services were to be transferred to UCHG, that the people of the north-west would have access to services that met all the Health Information and Quality Authority standards," he said.