Health chiefs tonight sought to ease the crisis in breast cancer services by listing 20 centres they vowed would meet standards in care.
After a string of women given the all-clear were later diagnosed with the disease, the Health Service Executive (HSE) confirmed the Midland Hospital, Portlaoise – at the centre of the scandal – will now be linked with one of the country’s biggest hospitals.
Meanwhile, breast cancer services will be withdrawn entirely from Mullingar Hospital and transferred to Dublin’s Mater Hospital.
The HSE, which claims the move is due to a drop in new patients to 26 in 2006, told women receiving care at the site not to have any concerns regarding the service.
The assessment of services in 22 hospitals nationwide was based on the National Quality Assurance Standards for Symptomatic Breast Disease Services, published in May.
Dr Mary Hynes, HSE Assistant National Director, said she was satisfied services should continue in these centres between now and the end of 2009, the target date to have 90% of cancer services transferred to the eight Centres of Excellence.
“This move will create larger teams of clinicians and allied health and associated professionals, with larger workloads and more specialist expertise,” said Dr Hynes.
“The HSE also requires in the interim, that all existing centres continue to rigorously assess their service against best practice and the recently published standards and implement such practice and standards.
“We will be requiring all centres to report back on their services.”
The HSE confirmed weekly multidisciplinary team meetings do not currently take place at Portlaoise and Mullingar Hospitals, but it listed 20 centres around the country where the meetings do take place, either on site or through an affiliated centre.
Dublin: Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown; Mater; Beaumont; St Vincent’s; St James; AMNCH Tallaght;
Louth: Our Lady of Lourdes, Drogheda
Kilkenny: St Lukes General Hospital
Wexford: General Hospital
Waterford: Regional Hospital
Tipperary: South Tipperary General Hospital, Clonmel
Cork: University Hospital; South Infirmary
Kerry: Kerry General Hospital, Tralee.
Limerick: Limerick Regional Hospital; St Johns
Galway: University College Hospital
Mayo: Mayo General Hospital
Sligo: Sligo General Hospital
Donegal: Letterkenny General Hospital
“Within the coming weeks, breastcare services in Mullingar Hospital will be transferred to the Mater Hospital,” continued Dr Hynes.
“GPs will be fully informed about the new arrangements and they will be in a position to refer new patients appropriately.”
Dr Hynes said a Consultant Surgeon based at the site is also due to retire shortly and it would have been deemed inappropriate to recruit a new surgeon with the planned implementation of the eight centres.
Tonight’s HSE announcement comes as thousands of scans taken at Midland Hospital, Portlaoise, were reviewed and a consultant sent on leave after concerns were raised about the reading of mammograms at the hospital.
More than 3,000 tests carried out on site were reviewed and at least seven of those patients were subsequently diagnosed with cancer, with further tests to be completed.
The HSE confirmed that within the coming weeks the clinicians at Portlaoise will deliver breastcare services formally linked on a clinical basis with the breastcare team at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, and required to participate in a multi-disciplinary team meeting on a weekly basis.
The suspension of mammography services at Portlaoise continues, pending the outcome of the report currently being carried out.
Labour Party TD for Longford Westmeath, Willie Penrose, tonight raised serious concerns about proposals to end all breast cancer services at Mullingar without patients getting any clear indication as to what alternative services will be available for them.
“Mullingar serves a substantial catchment area, with 630 women having been treated there last year,” he said.
“If these women are now to be asked to travel to St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, what guarantees are there that St Vincent’s will have the capacity to cater for them?
“We have been promised centres of excellence, but there are serious questions about the financing and resourcing of these facilities.
“It is not acceptable to close reliable local facilities without a clear efficient and assessable alternative first being made available”.