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Sunday 17 December 2017

Cuts forcing two-week chemo delay on cancer sufferers

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

SOME patients suffering from bowel and pancreatic cancer are facing delays of up to two weeks in getting chemotherapy treatment.

Dr Ray McDermott, a cancer specialist in Tallaght Hospital in Dublin, warned that a lack of staff means the chemotherapy treatment must be postponed in order to ensure it is delivered safely.

"Up to now we have not had to do that but, in the last few weeks, we have had to," Dr McDermott told the Irish Independent.

Dr McDermott also treats patients in St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin and, although delays have not yet emerged there, "they may not be far off it," he warned.

He was speaking after the chief executives of Tallaght Hospital, the Mater Hospital, St James's Hospital and Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin wrote to the Health Service Executive (HSE) about treatment delays, and warned that more funding cuts will seriously threaten the safety and quality of care for patients.

The letter came in advance of the HSE's service plan for 2014, due at the end of next week, which will set out where the funding axe will fall in order to save a potential €1bn.

The chief executives said budgets have already been cut by €206m since 2009, and the "short-sighted and random application" of budgetary reductions is likely to seriously damage the foundation of the health system.

Dr McDermott said the problems arise because staff are not being replaced.

While a week or two will not make a difference to the outcome for most patients, those who are very symptomatic may be affected.

The lack of staff in other areas of the hospital working with cancer patients is also having knock-on effects. He said management were not allowed to hire and were "moving deckchairs".

Earlier, Dr Owen Smith, a cancer specialist in Crumlin Hospital, said a number of his child and teenage patients also suffered treatment delays.

"A lot of our cancers in children are high-grade malignancies and we really need to get these drugs into these children in a scheduled, timely fashion. Failure to do what will have knock-on effects in terms of survival."

PRIORITY

A spokesman for the Minister for Health, James Reilly, said he had already made it clear to the HSE that patient safety "is a priority".

A spokeswoman for Dr Susan O' Reilly, head of the HSE's cancer service, said they had not been made aware of any delays in cancer treatment.

The four hospitals refused to elaborate on the letter yesterday or why they object to the introduction of a 'money follows the patient system next year. The chiefs said the relevant data to make this work is not ready.

Irish Independent

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