Weekend plea to cut cancer test hold ups
Patients are being left waiting for key cancer tests because of the shortage of a key chemical tracer which is used in scans.
The HSE is coming under mounting pressure to ensure cancer scans are carried out at weekends to deal with a backlog after a three-day halt to tests was caused by a shortage of a chemical tracing agent.
The backlog affects patients attending for PET and CT scans at St James's Hospital, Dublin, but a private hospital also hit by the delays has already cleared its extended waiting list after the delays.
Key machinery used to produce the radiotracer 18F-FDG at M2i Limited in Blackrock, Co Dublin, was damaged by a leak last month, leading to production being disrupted on three separate days. This had a knock-on effect on patients who were scheduled to attend a scan, with many now left waiting weeks for a new appointment.
The company's managing director Ruairi O'Donnell said it has offered to manufacture and distribute additional batches at weekends at no additional cost and has made efforts to cut the time patients are left waiting for outstanding scans since addressing the issue.
Irish Patients Association director Stephen McMahon has called on the HSE to ensure tests are carried out at weekends to clear the backlog. Fianna Fail TD Timmy Dooley says the delay highlights a lack of foresight within the health service.
In a letter to senior health officials yesterday, Mr McMahon called on the HSE to make staff available in the evenings and at weekends to clear the backlog.
"With almost one million patients on various waiting lists, some of these patients have been waiting for either CT or PET diagnostic/monitoring scans for months," he said.
The HSE said the short supply of radiotracers was an operational issue for hospitals.
St James's Hospital said it was working through a backlog but declined to say how many patients were impacted by the delays.
"St James's Hospital are working as hard as possible to deal with the backlog and are hoping to run additional services to deal with this backlog," said a spokeswoman.
The Health Products Regulatory Authority said it was aware of the supply issue.
A spokesperson for South/South West Hospital Group said its PET scans are carried out at Cork University Hospital but patients there had not been hit by the radiotracer supply issue.