Lessons must be learned from bowel screening mistakes, warns Irish Cancer Society

Lessons must be learned from critical bowel screening mistakes, the Irish Cancer Society warned yesterday.

A review of bowel screening cases at Wexford General Hospital identified 12 missed cancers, including one probable avoidable death.

The society’s head of services, Donal Buggy, said the review represented a personal tragedy for the 12 individuals and their families.

“It also represents an unnecessary failure in a system which should not have happened and from which lessons must be learned,” said Mr Buggy.

Around 600 patients were recalled due to issues with colonoscopies at the hospital in 2013 and 2014.

Mr Buggy said almost 2,500 people were diagnosed each year with bowel cancer and about 1,000 died from the disease.

“The early detection of bowel cancer is vital in terms of ensuring the best possible outcome for the patient,” he said.

Currently, around 4,000 people have been waiting more than three months for a colonoscopy.

Last year, the HSE said all patients should undergo a colonoscopy within three months of being referred. However, the health authority’s target this year was revised downwards to 70% in its service plan.

Mr Buggy pointed out that over the last three years Wexford General Hospital had fallen consistently below the HSE’s three-month target.

“It is crucial that the Irish public has access to timely and quality diagnostic tests for suspected cancers,” said Mr Buggy. “Anything which affects the trust of diagnostic testing for cancer patients is of paramount concern to the society.”

Mr Buggy said the society was continuing to monitor the situation closely.

The HSE said its primary concern was to address patients’ concerns — the review had been completed and patients and their families had been fully informed.

“The HSE regret any distress which has resulted for patients and all other parties,” it said last night.

It said the public could be assured that the authority had acted quickly to ensure the safety of services in the hospital concerned.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said there was no evidence of screening mistakes occurring anywhere else in the country and what happened in Wexford was due to “human error”.

He said a quality assurance and systems review was needed to see what could be done to make sure that screening errors were picked up much quicker.


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