Patients with cancer hit by the removal of free transport
Cancer patients who suffer financial hardship and cannot afford to travel to Dublin hospitals for vital radiotherapy treatment are the latest victims of hospital cuts, the Irish Independent has learned.
St Luke's Radiation Oncology Network - which includes cancer centres in St Luke's, Beaumont and St James's Hospitals - has said it must slash the €100,000 fund it had used to pay for private transport for these patients.
"This level of expenditure is not sustainable," said Trevor O'Callaghan, the chief operating officer in the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, which oversees the cancer centres.
The money had previously been earmarked for providing taxis for patients who had nobody to bring them from their homes for treatment and were too sick to get public transport.
The revelation has emerged in a parliamentary response to Fianna Fáil Dublin West TD Jack Chambers, who investigated the matter after worried patients raised their concerns with him.
Mr Chambers, who is a medical graduate, warned that the patients who are battling illness have now also been left to cope with the distress of worrying how they can afford the journey to their life-saving treatment.
"It is important to remember that these are very sick people who very often are not well enough to drive themselves to hospitals and avail of public transport," he said.
Radiotherapy can involve the patient going to hospital for a series of daily treatments, Monday to Friday, over a number of days or weeks. On average, they receive 25 sessions.
Defending its decision, the hospital group said it was necessary to cut the fund by a half to €50,000 because of the current "financial climate."
The cancer centre is not funding to directly cover the cost of the transport. The money has had to be taken out of its annual allocation it gets from the HSE to run hospital services.
Scores of patients will lose out but it still hopes that it can cover the costs of around 110 patients this year.
The group of patients affected do not drive and cannot rely on family and friends to assist them. They may also be too unwell to use public transport.
They have now been directed to charity organisations such as the Irish Cancer Society, the Friends of St Luke's, Marie Keating Foundation to apply for financial assistance.
But these are already struggling with limited funds to spend on transport costs.
The cancer hospital groups said it has several transport and other supports for other patients.
Patients who live far away may be lucky enough to get one of the rooms in Oakland Lodge on the grounds of St Luke's.
It also offers a coach pick-up service for patients coming from the Midlands area to St Luke's Rathgar. This is supplemented by minibus transport if further onward travel is required to the other two hospital centres in the cancer network.
If in-patients of St Luke's are receiving daily treatment in either Beaumont or St James's or vice versa and are deemed unfit to travel by mini-bus, these patients are transported by taxi or via ambulance.