Saturday 18 November 2017

Health cutbacks have led to delays in treatment of children with cancer, says leading oncologist

Minister for Health James Reilly is looking for €666 million in savings
Minister for Health James Reilly is looking for €666 million in savings

AN oncologist at Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children says that a number of patients there have experienced delays in the delivery of chemotherapy.

Speaking to RTE’s Morning Ireland this morning, Prof Owen Smith said he had seen such delays over the last number of months and in recent years.

The delays range from 24 hours to four days – a situation Prof Smith described as “unacceptable”.

The oncologist was speaking after a letter sent to the HSE by the CEOs of four hospitals claimed cuts to their budgets in recent years has led to delays for the treatment of cancer patients.

The four hospitals are Crumlin, the Mater, St James’s and Tallaght.

The letter was received by the HSE yesterday and made public last night.

Prof Smith – who said he had not seen the contents of the letter - said the delays experienced by children being treated for cancer were “unacceptable”.

“Over the last number of months, even years, a number of our patients have had delays in chemotherapy delivered.

“The most significant time would be about 24 hours, a day and some have gone on for four days delays and that is not really acceptable in terms of the parents’ anxiety when their children cannot come in and have their chemotherapy,” he said.

“A lot of our cancers in children are ‘high-grade’ malignancies, high grade cancers and we really need to get these drugs into these children in a scheduled timely fashion because we know from previous times that failing to do that will have a knock-on effect in terms of survival.

Reiterating that he could only speak from his experience at Crumlin, Prof Smith said more resources were needed for the treatment of Irish children and adolescents with cancer.

“We have to take cancer seriously and put the resources behind it.

“There are designated cancer centres around the country – Crumlin is not one of these eight designated cancer centres.

“And therefore our budget for cancer care for children and adolescents comes out of the general cancer budget. I would suggest to the HSE and the minister this is unacceptable.

““For example in the last four years, we have a 50pc increase in the number of stem cell transplants we do for children with cancer, yet we do not have any increase in funding.

“I would suggest to the HSE and the minister that we cannot continue to give the quality of care to patients with the current resources for children and adolescents with cancer. It’s just not feasible any more.”

Professor Smith said the issue of funding and cutbacks stays with the “financial gurus of the HSE”.

However, he pointed to one area which he claimed would save the taxpayer significant money as well as improve quality of care.

“For example a number of our patients we have to transfer across to the UK for stem cell transplantation.

“We’ve actually put a business case to the HSE a number of months ago to do these transplants in Dublin will actually save the Irish taxpayer a significant amount of money.

“There are mechanisms in which we can save money and improve quality of care.”

Irish Independent

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