Cancer service campaigners vow to fight on

Niamh Nolan

The Whitfield Clinic yesterday officially unveiled plans for a 40-bed hospital at Butlerstown north, three miles from Waterford Regional Hospital (WRH).

The private hospital is a joint venture between Irish-based healthcare infrastructure company Euro Care International and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre (UPMC) and will administer radiotherapy using two linear accelerators.

Dr Jim Madden of Euro Care International said it was a “key requirement” of the UPMC, as a not-for-profit organisation, that the hospital be “a socially inclusive facility.”

“It is the intention of our transatlantic partnership that the widest possible range of cancer patients will receive all of the oncology treatments to be provided at Whitfield Clinic, whether their fees are covered by medical insurance or under the National Treatment Purchase Fund,” Dr Madden said.

The hospital’s financiers yesterday met with the Tánaiste and Minister for Health Mary Harney and local Minister Martin Cullen in Dublin to discuss formalising a private-public agreement on the provision of radiotherapy services.

“We have said from the very outset that we are fully committed to reaching an agreement with the Government that will allow public patients to enjoy the same access as medically insured patients to treatment at our facility,” Dr Madden said.

However, Dick Roche, chairman of the South East Radiotherapy Committee said local campaigners had been assured by Ms Harney that her “preferred choice” would be to provide a public radiotherapy unit at WRH.

“A public facility at WRH is the only real solution to this, that’s been acknowledged not only by international experts, but by government themselves,” he said.

Even if a public-private agreement was reached with the Whitfield Clinic, Mr Roche claimed it would not be able to cater for the large number of public patients seeking radiotherapy.

“I don’t see how it will be able to cater for the amount of patients in the south east. It doesn’t make economic sense to pay a private enterprise to give you half a service,” he added.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health confirmed the department was in discussions with the Whitfield Clinic but no decision on radiotherapy had been finalised.

“The Tánaiste did meet Euro Care International this morning,” she said. “The Prospectus Group (an independent body) are examining the issue of private sector developments in investing in hospital services,” she added.

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