Latest tragedy brings to mind case of Susie Long
Published 18/02/2016 | 02:30
Missed diagnosis is a sad fact of medicine. But the significant number of patients who were mistakenly given the all-clear for bowel cancer in Wexford Hospital is particularly worrying.
Wexford Hospital was chosen as one of the centres to provide colonoscopies - invasive bowel exams - by BowelScreen. This free national screening programme was set up in 2012 to invite people in the 60-to-69-year age group to take a test for potential cancer.
National screening programmes have to ensure a gold standard of care - so any hospital chosen to perform these procedures has to meet the highest performance criteria.
Clearly this did not happen in this case.
It is a major blow to public confidence in the programme which already has a low uptake, with just 45pc of those invited to take an initial test agreeing to do so.
Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in Ireland.
BowelScreen is crucial in reducing the death rate from the disease among this age group.
The issue first came to public attention in February of last year when the Irish Independent revealed that BowelScreen found that two people who it had referred to Wexford for a colonoscopy were given the all-clear but later found to have the disease.
Although it is not unusual for some people to develop interval cancers between screenings, it is now clear that the quality of the colonosopies in Wexford were at fault.
It begs a lot of questions about the standards of colonoscopies provided for the screening programme in other hospitals also.
Patients referred by their GPs, who are not part of the programme, would also have undergone colonoscopies in Wexford Hospital.
The latest tragedy brings to mind the late Susie Long, a young mother of two from Kilkenny who had to wait seven months for a colonoscopy.
She died in October 2007 of bowel cancer.
Following her death, the HSE promised that patients deemed in urgent need of a colonoscopy would have the procedure within a month.
However, this target is not being met consistently.
Two months ago, it emerged that 3,500 patients were waiting over three months for the test. One of the key problems is a shortage of radiologists.
Ireland has five radiologists per 100,000, which is half the European average.
It means they face high workloads at a time of rising demand.
Around 15pc of posts for radiologists are also being filled by temporary doctors and smaller hospitals are particularly hit.