Saturday 20 January 2018

Bowel cancer found in more patients after re-checks

A blood test able to spot a single cancer cell lurking among healthy ones has taken a step closer
A blood test able to spot a single cancer cell lurking among healthy ones has taken a step closer
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

More patients, who were given the all-clear after undergoing an investigation for bowel cancer, have been found to have the disease following re-checks, it was confirmed yesterday.

The Irish Independent revealed in February that two patients who had a colonoscopy procedure in Wexford General Hospital in 2013 were discovered to have cancer in October and November last year.

The specialist involved in the Wexford screenings is currently on paid leave.

The recall of patients, prompted by the two cases, has now been extended to over 600 people and more cancers have been discovered, it emerged yesterday,

However, a spokesperson for BowelScreen, the free national service which sent many patients to Wexford, said yesterday it will not release the number of cancer cases until everyone has been re-checked.

The other patients who had the original colonoscopies, and are being screened again, were referred to the hospital with symptoms of bowel cancer.

Doctors said it was unclear if the cancer was misdiagnosed at the time of the first colonoscopy or whether the patients had fast-growing tumour which developed since.

A BowelScreen spokeswoman said that up to the "end of 2014" two cases of "interval" cancers between screenings were reported. The revelation is a setback for the programme which currently has an uptake of just 45pc among the 60 to 69 age group .

She said no other hospital around the country is reviewing colonoscopies. Hospitals which are given the work by BowelScreen must be accredited and consultants who carry out the work have to agree to have their performance reviewed on a continuous basis.

"It is as a result of ongoing quality assurance that this issue was originally identified," she added.

Meanwhile, the Health Service Executive (HSE) did not respond to queries yesterday on what progress had been made in identifying any more hospitals which should be subject to a review of patient X-rays.

The X-rays and scans carried out by three temporary consultants in eight have had to be reviewed and around 100 patients recalled for more tests, including one patient in Bantry Hospital whose cancer was missed.

More patients scanned in Cavan and Monaghan Hospitals may yet be recalled. The doctors may also have worked in other hospitals.

Dr Niall Sheehy, a radiologist in St James's Hospital and spokesman for the Faculty of Radiologists which is responsible for training and standards, said Irish hospitals are still very short of these specialists at a time when demand for scans is rising.

Ireland has five radiologists per 100,000 population, half the European average.

"These factors have led to high workloads for radiologists when compared with their peers in other countries and partly explains why it can be so difficult for some hospitals to find locum doctors," he said.

It is a constant battle balancing waiting lists, reporting delays and service quality.

He told the Irish Independent he was surprised to see that one of the temporary radiologists under review was not on the specialist register of the Medical Council, a standard required for a full-time job.

Best practice now is to have radiologists working in larger groups.

Specialists working in smaller hospitals should be linked into larger hospitals, he said.

He said around 15pc of the posts for radiologists are filled by temporary doctors.

"Some of the smaller hospitals where there are just one or two radiologists have great difficulty finding doctors because they are not used to working in that kind of environment. In other areas there are junior doctors who can take over but in radiology it is an entirely consultant-provided service. This puts enormous pressure on hospital managers."

Irish Independent

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