Dáil debates

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Adjournment Debate

Cancer Treatment Services.

8:00 pm

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I seek the Minister's immediate intervention in the case of Kerry Anne McLoughlin of Glenballythomas, Tulsk, County Roscommon, a 17 year old girl who has been attending UCHG for the past seven years with a thyroid problem and who is still awaiting an appointment for treatment in St. Luke's following the removal of a malignant tumour last July. I have tried to raise this matter on the Adjournment on several occasions and I am delighted it is being heard tonight. It is a frustrating and serious matter which should have been dealt with long before now.

In 2004 a scan showed a growth on Kerry Anne's thyroid gland and a repeat scan in 2006 showed the growth had doubled in size. Surgery was eventually arranged for July 2007, when one part of the thyroid was removed. Unfortunately, the result showed there was a malignant tumour on the thyroid gland and the patient received an urgent phone call from UCHG to say more surgery was necessary. Further surgery was carried out and it showed there was cancer of the thyroid gland with total invasion. Radio iodine ablation treatment was necessary.

This young girl was put on the waiting list for St. Luke's Hospital in Dublin and for St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London. In November 2007, UCHG told the family Kerry Anne would receive treatment in St. Bartholomew's Hospital in eight weeks' time. The family was delighted with this breakthrough and waited patiently for two months for the call. The then worried and concerned parents rang the hospital to inquire about the commencement date of the treatment, but were told her name had been removed from the list. Some weeks later the family contacted St. Luke's only to be told her name was not on the waiting list there. When they contacted UCHG, they were told her name had been removed from the St. Luke's list because she was supposed to go to St. Bartholomew's Hospital. This situation is the worst cock-up I have seen in my time in political office.

Following this, Mrs. McLoughlin made a phone call to UCHG in which she could not hide her anger and frustration at the way she and her daughter had been treated by hospital authorities, particularly by someone whom I will not mention but who is on the Minister's list and who was responsible for handling this case following surgery by Mr. Quill. Following her cry for help to St. Luke's, an appointment for Kerry Anne was arranged the following day. However, she was informed that owing to the long waiting list in St. Luke's, she will not be reached until after September, but before the end of the year.

The distraught family has contacted a hospital in Belfast in desperation. The head of department there listened to the nightmare story of how this 17 year old girl's life has been put at risk owing to the lack of services. A shocked consultant has promised to intervene and, hopefully, provide help. However, he is not able to provide the family with a definite appointment date at such short notice.

This girl has lost a serious amount of weight, suffers from anaemia and lies in bed most of the day with no energy. She is unable to attend school and mix with her friends and feels that nobody cares about her. So much for our cancer strategy of early detection and treatment and our promise that cancer prevention is of utmost importance. This girl was told in UCHG that if one was to get cancer, her type of cancer is the best type to get. This is not a great consolation for a 17 year old girl.

The family has decided to make one last plea for help. Before they go public with the heart-breaking story of this 17 year teenager, I implore the Minister to make an early and positive intervention in this sad case.

Photo of John MoloneyJohn Moloney (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney.

As the Deputy will be aware, the organisation and management of the health services is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. The HSE has advised the Department of Health and Children that in November 2007 the individual was referred to St. Luke's Hospital, Dublin. Owing to the substantial waiting list for specialist radio iodine ablation treatment at that time, the medical team in University College Hospital Galway, UCHG, cancelled the appointment with a view to referring the individual to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London. The HSE has further advised the Department that this referral was not followed through by staff in UCHG due to an administrative error.

The individual was again referred by her consultant to St. Luke's Hospital on 11 March 2008. Scans have been arranged for 28 and 31 July and the individual will be admitted for treatment during the week of 10 August. The HSE would like to apologise to the individual and her family for the distress caused by the prolonged delay in her treatment as a result of a breakdown in the referral process. The HSE will also make every effort to get an earlier appointment for the individual with the consent of her referring clinician.

The Department has sought and received assurances from Professor Tom Keane, director of the HSE national cancer control programme, that efforts are being made to ensure acceptable clinical waiting times for patients requiring radio isotope treatment. Professor Keane has already made significant progress in delivery of the programme to ensure equity of access to services and equality of outcome irrespective of geography.