Health errors will happen, but this is a concern cancer patients can do without
Published 17/10/2015 | 00:00
Health errors will happen - but the real test of how damage to patients is limited, is how the crisis is managed.
There is a long history of incidents where hundreds of patients have needed to be recalled because of questions about X-rays or tests.
More frequently concerns about faulty or contaminated products lead to an alert.
One of the striking features of the recall of potentially contaminated chemotherapy treatment - some of which was administered to patients - is the apparent lack of clear information for patients.
When the news that chemotherapy produced by Fannin was first revealed on the Independent.ie website yesterday morning, it led to a flood of emails from concerned patients.
Later on, the husband of a woman who had her first round of chemotherapy last week - only to be told on Tuesday it could have been contaminated - rang RTE's 'Liveline' programme.
He said he had looked everywhere online in the previous days for more information but had failed to find any.
It is a sad reflection that he had to contact Joe Duffy in order to try to get some details.
Another patient was told she may have got a potentially contaminated treatment on Wednesday, even though the recall was due to have been carried out on Monday.
Inevitably, problems will arise and it is difficult for a recall to go entirely smoothly, when patients have enough to do to fight an illness like cancer.
However, there are too many past incidents of patients having to undergo unnecessary stress because of poor communication at all levels. There are plenty of precedents to learn from.
Once one of these alerts is triggered, one person should be delegated within the HSE to oversee the entire process.
It was difficult to get one co-ordinated response yesterday from the different agencies involved. If one person was in charge, all of the information could stem from their office and a lot of unnecessary anxiety could be alleviated, if not entirely avoided.
It must be quite chilling to be told that the product you received could be contaminated with a bacteria that could be potentially life-threatening.
Yet, while all the patients who contacted the media yesterday praised the staff who care for them, it was clear they felt very much in the dark.
There are still around 121 units of the product which could have been contaminated and these would have been given to around 100 patients.
Another 100 patients are now in the clear.
There will be more of these kind of recalls but lessons need to be learned about how to manage them.
Patients should not have to learn through the media or even feel they have to contact a radio station for information.
The recall also underlines the need for watchdogs, such as the Health Products Regulatory Authority, which oversees the safety of medicines to ensure there is no complacency about inspections and checks on companies making these products. Yesterday's news was a concern cancer patients can do without.