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Ireland’s health chiefs accused over cancer scandal

Advocacy group Patients Together calls Ireland’s health department “a department without a heart” in the wake of a cancer misdiagnosis case.

After 3,000 mammograms were taken at the midlands Portlaoise Hospital, it emerged that seven women were wrongly given the all-clear.

“Initially, we heard how human error caused the problem. This gave people a sense of relief. Then as the situation further evolved, we learned how there were problems with dirt, with 16-year-old machines,” says Janette Byrne who founded the patients advocacy organisation in response to how she and her mother were treated at Dublin hospitals.

“There were problems that prevented people from doing their jobs properly and which the department was told about,” she says.

Ironically, the cancer misdiagnosis scandal unfolded after the director of nursing at Portlaoise raised concerns about 10 “false positive” mammograms in August.

The Health Service Executive (HSE), the agency responsible for Ireland’s health service, then terminated breast radiology services at Portlaoise, placed a consultant radiologist on administrative leave and set up a review of all breast radiology diagnoses at the hospital from November 2003 to August 2007.

After it emerged that seven women whose mammograms were reviewed were diagnosed with breast cancer, the Irish media, revealed that a surgeon in the hospital had expressed concerns about radiological service as far back as July 2005.

He had particularly pinpointed inexperienced staff.

Byrne, who when she was a cancer patient in Dublin’s Mater hospital ended up taking the service to court, is keen to emphasize that the latest furore is just one symptom of the well-advanced health service malaise.

“Patients are devastated and are getting it from every angle; overcrowded Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments, patients on trolleys, hygiene problems.

“We were promised that hygiene would be sorted out, but we still get calls every day from patients about things as basic as dirty bathrooms, handwashing facilities and towels,” she says.

“In a restructuring of the health service three years ago, 3,000 beds were lost to the system and not enough have been replaced. There hasn’t been an improvement in the problem of patients waiting on trolleys, which is really high at the moment,” she says.

“Sometimes, in Dublin even plastic chairs in Accident and Emergency departments are full and ambulances can’t get people in hospital, so they have to wait too. God forbid there is ever a train crash or an emergency situation.”

Ireland health service