Specialist warns of cancer treatment shortage
Cancer patients are at risk of suffering more delayed treatment because of a potential lack of supplies of a life-saving chemotherapy drug, a leading specialist has warned.
Dr Ray McDermott, a medical oncologist at Tallaght Hospital and the Beacon Hospital in Dublin, expressed serious concern about the risk to future supplies following revelations that several patients across the country have had their treatment postponed because of a chemotherapy shortage.
Patients will soon be reliant on the country's one commercial supplier of chemotherapy made by Baxter. This is necessary to supplement treatments that are mixed internally in hospitals.
Baxter is to buy Fannin Compounding, the only other company involved in mixing chemotherapy in Ireland.
The risk to supplies has already been highlighted by the chemotherapy shortage over the past three weeks after Fannin suspended its operation due to fears of contamination of machines.
The HSE was forced to admit the shortage last Friday. There were treatment delays for patients in Drogheda, Cavan, Limerick and other centres.
Dr McDermott said that while most chemotherapy is mixed in-house in hospitals, some supplies come from commercial sources.
"I would be concerned there will be more shortages if there is just one company supplying chemotherapy.
"It is terrible that there will just be one," he said.
Dr McDermott added that this could affect the target to ensure that all newly-diagnosed patients who are referred for chemotherapy receive their first treatment within two weeks.
"If there is a shortage, you will always have to prioritise patients on treatment already, because they are going to get much more distressed if their treatment is delayed, he said.
"The question is, can we meet the two-week target for new patients? The stress levels at that stage for patients are enormous."
Asked if delayed treatment of a few days would impact on the patient's outcome, he said it would not, but any delay should not extend beyond a week.
"There are times you might delay a patient for a week if something was not right like their blood counts," he said. "But once you get beyond a week you are beginning to interfere with the clinical benefit of the treatment."
The HSE, which had denied there was a shortage last Thursday, said yesterday: "We are informed by the hospitals that those locations experiencing disruption last week are in a much better position this week to deliver scheduled care.
"The HSE is continuing to monitor the situation on a daily basis across all hospitals. We have not been informed this week of any new patients to be re-scheduled. However, this is a fluid situation."
Baxter has previously indicated that it hopes to step up production to avoid shortages of chemotherapy.