Tuesday 23 January 2018

Campaigners' delight as HSE agrees to appoint sarcoma specialist

Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Frank McGrath
Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Frank McGrath
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

The HSE has agreed to recruit a sarcoma specialist at St Vincent’s University hospital.

Thousands of campaigners signed an online petition urging St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin to renew the contract of its only sarcoma specialist as her contract expired.

Dr Alexia Bertuzzi is the only member of staff in the hospital with the expertise in the rare form of cancer but is due to leave the hospital when her contract expires.

The Sarcoma Action Group Ireland said they are “delighted” with the news.

“We are delighted to report that the HSE is in talks with Dr Alexia Bertuzzi to allow her to continue caring for her existing sarcoma patients, until a new fulltime oncologist with a specialty in sarcoma is appointed.

“It is our understanding that Dr Bertuzzi will be meeting with the NCCP and the HSE next week to discuss the logistics of moving her patients to a new hospital location and ensuring that this hospital is fully equipped to deal with the unique medical needs of sarcoma patients.”

Sarcoma is a rare cancer that affects around 250 people in Ireland annually.

There are 50 different sub-types, which are not easily diagnosed unless a doctor is specifically trained in this area. If caught early, sarcoma is curable. However, if it is not diagnosed early and it spreads, then sarcoma is incurable.

Families rallied together to oppose the absence of a sarcoma specialist at the hospital saying that “lives would be at risk” if a specialist wasn’t provided.

Kelli Appezzato said the “only hope” for her husband and patients of sarcoma is a specialist who is trained to deal with it.

“Quite simply, the delivery of medical oncology care to sarcoma patients by untrained, inexperienced oncologists who have no interest in or knowledge of the disease is not acceptable. Patients will die prematurely as a result.

“What we care about is that from 1st July there will be no expert sarcoma oncologist available to treat our loved ones. And that is a huge loss for all of Ireland, and especially for my four children.”

The HSE said the first step in the recruitment process has been initiated.

It says that in the interim, appropriate clinical arrangements are currently in place in St Vincent's to ensure patients are treated and managed on a multi-disciplinary basis by specialist teams.

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