Sunday 20 January 2019

Sarcoma patients wait two years for cancer expert

Stock photo
Stock photo
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Patients waiting for treatment for a life-threatening cancer will have to wait until the second half of this year to see a specialist - and that is more than two years after a recruitment process began to hire a sarcoma expert.

Health officials conducted interviews to fill the position at St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, last March and offered a contract to the successful candidate. The contract has been accepted but the role will not be filled until the second half of this year, 16 months after the job was offered.

The job is being held until the doctor can take up the role later this year. However, management at St Vincent's told patients that a pre-employment process remained ongoing and they could not confirm the exact date when the role would be filled.

The hospital told the Sunday Independent that the candidate was living and working in the US.

Patients were concerned that they had been treated by oncologists since Ireland's last sarcoma specialist left her role. They said oncologists did not have the same level of experience in dealing with the rare cancer.

Sarcoma affects fat, muscle, bones and blood vessels. It can occur in people of any age but is most frequently seen in adults aged between 30 and 50. There are about 200 new cases of the disease in Ireland every year.

Consultants had previously warned that specialist care was needed to treat the illness.

A doctor who previously held the position was due to finish working in Ireland in July 2016. Patients then met with Health Minister Simon Harris to express concern. They were told the issue would be dealt with urgently.

The previous expert was retained for a further six months while a recruitment process was under way. She left her role in January 2017 and the country has been without a sarcoma specialist since.

St Vincent's Hospital said the role would be filled in 2018.

"A contract has been issued to the successful candidate, who is currently working outside Ireland, and who has indicated a start date in the latter half of 2018," said a spokeswoman.

"A sarcoma multidisciplinary team in St Vincent's University Hospital which has all of the relevant specialties including surgery, medical oncology, radiation oncology, radiology and pathology, provides specialist care to patients with sarcoma attending the hospital," she added.

The HSE declined to comment when contacted by the Sunday Independent.

The Department of Health said it could not provide specific details about when the new sarcoma expert was due to take up her role.

"St Vincent's Hospital has informed the Department of Health that a contract has been issued to the successful candidate for this post and they will begin work once available to do so," said a spokesman.

Irish Patients' Association director Stephen McMahon called for a review of recruitment processes and said they should be streamlined.

"The need for a specialist was known, they went out and did the interviews and that person is still not in the post. We have to understand the cause for this delay because such delays are a risk to patients.

"Patients need this service and the length of time it has taken for this appointment to be made needs to be reviewed as a safety incident.

"While it is important to check references and professional standing, I cannot see why the pre-employment process should be so lengthy."

Sunday Independent

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