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Enid O'Dowd: Closing St Luke's is stupid, expensive and plain wrong

If it ain't broke, don't fix it, goes the old saying.

Health Minister Mary Harney obviously disagrees judging from her Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010 that has just been passed in the Dail. The Bill dissolves the board of St Luke's Cancer Hospital, Rathgar and moves services to St James's Hospital. And it transfers the valuable 18-acre St Luke's site and all other assets and equipment of the hospital to the dysfunctional HSE.

I attended St James's at a specialist outpatient clinic over several years and I've also visited patients there. The staff were fine but I hated the place. I wouldn't want to be making regular trips there. The campus is chaotic, it's hard to find where you're going and car parking is a nightmare.

It's not a logical move to close St Luke's when it is one of the few success stories of our public health system. According to patients past and present it's a 'centre of excellence' to which they are happy to travel.

Cancer patients and their families lobbied to save the hospital and obtained 150,000 signatures on a petition.



IMMACULATE

It was never presented to the minister as campaigners thought that due to the opposition, the decision was on the indefinite long finger.

They were wrong. The minister's timing was immaculate. The Bill was introduced in late May with attention turning to the World Cup. The original decision is hard to fathom.

The Hollywood Committee was set up to examine the future of cancer services in Ireland. It reported in 2003 recommending the 'centre of excellence' concept.

It would have been expected that when the minister came to choose which hospital should be the southside (Dublin) centre of excellence, St Luke's with its 50-year track record would have got her vote. It didn't.

A panel of six experts (three internal employed by the Irish health service and three external) examined submissions from four hospitals including St Luke's and made a half-day visit. There was no patient input.

Inexplicably the experts recommended St James's.

Surely patients are experts. And St Luke's patients were unanimous that St Luke's should continue and expand its excellent service. In fact after the decision to close St Luke's, millions were spent on the latest equipment and improving facilities. Ms Harney opened new units there in January 2009.

Andf after the decision, the National Cancer Registry revised upwards its projections for new cancer cancers in 2020.

The projected figures at the time of the decision were 28,000 new cases but a rise of 50pc of new cases to 42,000 has been projected. Updated figures are due. Prostate cancer now affects one in nine men and the National Cancer Registry estimates a 275pc increase in this cancer by 2020 which means 3,766 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in that year.

Surely these alarming figures make a case for review of the decision to close St Luke's?

The minister makes no secret of her support for private medicine.



CASUALTIES

Cancer care is being moved out of non-profit hospitals, such as St Luke's, and handed over to 'for profit' corporations.

As health analyst Marie O'Connor has publicly outlined, the new cancer centre in St James's will be a separate entity, under the management of a separate cancer 'business unit' within the HSE.

All services for cancer, be they community, hospital or continuing care, are being bundled together. Contracts for services for x number of cancer patients will then be given to the lowest bidder.

This has already happened in cervical cancer testing, which has now been outsourced yet again, this time to two commercial companies. The lab at St Luke's, a new state of the art facility, was one of the casualties. It closed.

But St Luke's is both holistic and non-profit.

There's 500 staff employed there with incredible expertise built up.

What is to happen to them is unclear. Most have permanent jobs so will have to be paid anyway. A voluntary redundancy scheme would be expensive.

Moving equipment and facilities to the St James's campus will be costly.

The decision to close St Luke's is wrong.


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