Tuesday 22 October 2019

'I'd probably be dead if I waited' - mother receives hospital letter 10 months after finding lump on breast

Relief: Angela Dobbs Gordon received an appointment 10 months after finding a lump on her breast. Photo: Photo: Mary Browne
Relief: Angela Dobbs Gordon received an appointment 10 months after finding a lump on her breast. Photo: Photo: Mary Browne
Angela Dobbs Gordon
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

A woman who this week received a letter for a hospital appointment - ten months after she found a lump on her breast - has said she'd "probably be dead" if she hadn't sought private treatment.

Mother-of-three Angela Dobbs Gordon, from Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, discovered a lump on April 27, 2018 after returning from a trip with friends.

This week, she received a letter from University Hospital Waterford, dated February 19, 2019 asking if "you still need to attend for your initial out patient consultation", adding "we regret that it has not been possible to provide you with an appointment date as of yet".

Ms Gordon (38) recently finished chemotherapy and said she "nearly got sick" when the letter from UHW arrived in the post.

Angela Dobbs Gordon
Angela Dobbs Gordon

She said she probably could have died or the cancer would have spread to other areas if she relied on the public health system.

Speaking to Independent.ie, she described what unfolded the week she found the lump.

"I immediately rang the local care doctor and was advised to go to her GP the next morning. Following an examination, he then sent a referral letter to University Hospital Waterford to arrange an appointment at the Breast Care Department."

After days of hearing nothing, Ms Gordon phoned the hospital and was told the earliest appointment might be May 23, but "there was no guarantee".

The lump started to grow bigger and she still had no confirmation of an appointment.

"That Friday, I completely lost the head and googled breast cancer. When I did, a number for a doctor in Dublin came up on the search, so I rang it. His wife answered the phone and I explained everything that had happened and how I was losing sleep," Ms Gordon said.

The doctor asked for a referral letter and arranged an appointment at the Hermitage Medical Clinic, a private hospital.

The fee was €100, which was like "gold dust" to Ms Gordon at the time as she had just split from her partner.

"He told me I was in trouble and organised for me to come up for an ultrasound and mammogram, which cost €350. I had to borrow the money... my three kids need me and I knew I had to try and fight this."

By now, the tumour had grown to 5cm and Ms Gordon was informed she would need a biopsy, which could cost €1,200 in the Hermitage Clinic.

"I would have needed a loan to pay for it but I managed to get put back onto the public system and attended St James's Hospital in Dublin," she said.

"I lost my hair, my eyebrows... and then to have gone through all this and to only get a letter now about a possible consultation, it's so frustrating.

"It's bad enough finding a lump, without not knowing whether you're going to get an appointment at a hospital or not.

"If I hadn't went to that doctor in Dublin, I'd be in a different predicament... I'd probably be dead."

Ms Gordon shared the letter from University Hospital Waterford on Facebook and says she has been inundated with messages from other cancer sufferers who received similar correspondence.

A HSE spokesperson said they were sorry to hear about Ms Gordon's experience, but "cannot comment on individual cases."

"When a client or family makes personal information public, this does not relieve the HSE of its duty to preserve/uphold client confidentiality at all times.  A member of a patient's medical team however will be happy to discuss any aspect of a client’s care directly with them or their family members."

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