Cancer services unit put on hold

PLANS for a cancer services unit have been put on hold at one of eight hospitals central to the successful delivery of the National Cancer Strategy.

Despite being earmarked by the Government as a future centre of excellence under its plan to concentrate cancer care in eight specialist centres, Waterford Regional Hospital will not get a new cancer unit before at least 2009.

This is despite repeated promises by the Health Service Executive (HSE) that building work on the €15 million unit would begin this year.

In February 2007, in response to claims by the South East Cancer Foundation that plans for the new unit had been scrapped, the HSE issued a statement saying it had been “fast- tracked” as part of its Capital Plan 2007-2011.

At the time, Richard Dooley, network manager for the HSE’s South Eastern Hospitals Group, said building work for the new unit was “scheduled to start on site in 2008”. The HSE said the unit was “a priority for public cancer patients in the south-east”.

However, yesterday the HSE confirmed that “construction is unlikely to commence in 2008”.

The HSE blamed the postponement of the project on new Department of Finance regulations for procurement procedures.

“Arranging compliance to these stipulations has resulted in the revision of commencement dates as regards appointment of design teams and detailed preparation of tender proposals... for some planned developments, including the cancer services unit at Waterford Regional Hospital,” said the HSE.

Jane Bailey, spokeswoman for the Cancer Care Alliance, said the postponement of the unit was a “disaster” and would jeopardise the delivery of the National Cancer Strategy.

“How can the Government propose to centralise cancer care in centres of excellence within the next two years if Waterford Regional, which is central to the delivery of their plan, is without a specialist unit?

“This is a disaster. Waterford is supposed to take on the cancer patients of the region — it simply cannot be done without this unit.

“It makes a complete farce of the Government’s centralisation plan if they are prepared to centralise services but not to fund it.”

Last September, the HSE announced its plan to centralise cancer care in a few hospitals.

The eight hospitals chosen were: Beaumont; the Mater; St James’s; St Vincent’s; Cork University Hospital; Waterford Regional Hospital; University College Hospital Galway; and the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick.

Earlier this week Health Minister Mary Harney admitted none of the eight hospitals designated as “centres of excellence” are ready to fulfil that role because of undercapacity and understaffing.

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