Radiotherapy services ‘should work in unison’

THE POPULATION of the south-east is sufficient to merit having four linear accelerators, the machines which provide radiotherapy to cancer patients.

But it is not ideal that the service be provided at two separate hospitals, specifically Waterford Regional Hospital (WRH) and the new Whitfield Clinic five minutes away, an expert says.

While radiotherapy services are not due to be up and running at WRH until 2011, the privately owned Whitfield Clinic will be providing radiotherapy through one linear accelerator when the unit opens in November.

Breast cancer specialist, WRH’s director of cancer services, Gordon Watson, says it is not ideal that two hospitals so close to one another should be providing radiotherapy.

“The population of the south-east would be sufficient to have four linear accelerators in use. Whitfield is planning to put in two and the HSE is planning to put in two. That is scientifically based. But in theory it is not ideal from a patient management point of view and many other aspects.

“There is no amalgamation planned between the Whitfield and the Waterford Regional Hospital/HSE project. Really cancer patients have to be managed through integrated care.

“It would be difficult if there was not some degree of reciprocity between the two institutions. With good, modern communications though, that is surmountable,” said Mr Watson.

He said for the moment, some patients may elect to go to Whitfield.

“If they can do the business and are shown to do the business, then I think they can be used. Public patients will continue to have to go to Cork or Dublin.

“Whether or not public patients will be treated at Whitfield is entirely a matter for the HSE. From a practical point of view, it would be much easier for patients in the south-east to go to Whitfield rather than Dublin or Cork. But it is purely a political decision,” he said.

Mr Watson said that as many as one-in-10 breast cancer patients elect to have more evasive surgery than be forced to travel to either Dublin or Cork for radiotherapy.

“The surgery and chemotherapy is available in Waterford. Patients travelling for radiotherapy are disenfranchised, no question about it, and it is difficult for them to have to travel to Cork or Dublin.

“The south-east has the largest population block in the country without radiotherapy or indeed a university,” he said.

“We give breast cancer patients an option to have more extensive, radical surgery and avoid radiotherapy if its going to be a difficulty for them and some people do take that option. The outcomes are the same either way,” he added.

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