Patients with urgent cancer cases will be seen within one month by the end of the year, Health Minister Mary Harney claimed tonight.
Ms Harney said the new one-for-all waiting list and consultant contracts meant there will never be a repeat of the tragic Suzie Long case, the mother-of-two who died of bowel cancer while waiting for surgery.
Even though three damning reports attacked the state of the country’s cancer care the minister went on to claim Ireland will have one of the world’s top three specialist services by the end of the year.
Ms Harney said the Cabinet sub-committee on health, which Taoiseach Brian Cowen also sits on, had been given assurances by cancer tsar Professor Tom Keane that when the eight specialist cancer units are set up it will be among the best.
“I’m satisfied that by the end of this year urgent cases will be seen within a month,” she said.
It is the second time the minister has pushed for the commitment. In December last year Ms Harney told the HSE she wished to see colonoscopies performed within one month of patients being referred.
But the minister was forced to defend health reforms after a review of cancer care found 820 patients were waiting more than three months for crucial bowel tests at the end of last month.
The Health Service Executive study said more than 100 patients were waiting longer than a year for colonoscopies and a small number of patients were waiting more than two years.
Ms Harney insisted a new system of referral notes from GPs and revised consultant contracts, which 85% have signed up to, would drive down waiting lists.
“The new consultant contract makes it clear that there has to be a one-for-all waiting list for diagnostics in public hospitals,” she said.
“So there will be never again be a situation like the late Suzie Long who was told by a public hospital in Ireland if she had private health insurance she could have her colonoscopy within two weeks but if she didn’t she’d have to go on a waiting list.
“That cannot now happen as a result of the new consultant contract.”
All consultants who have signed up to the new arrangement must agree to treat public and private patients on equal terms.
Ms Harney was also forced to defend the plan for centres of excellence to treat cancer sufferers after a leaked report revealed Waterford Regional Hospital, home to one of the specialist breast cancer units, was failing to meet national standards.
In a third damning review experts revealed death rates from cancer are 4% lower in the North compared with the Republic.