Growing fears UHG cancer services may be withdrawnJuly 6, 2012 - 7:00am
By Dara Bradley
There are growing fears that oesophageal and stomach cancer services provided at Galway University Hospital, a designated ‘cancer centre of excellence’, could be withdrawn this year.
The plan under consideration by the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) would force hundreds of cancer patients in Galway and the West of Ireland to travel to Dublin every year for treatment.
At the moment, nationally, there are four regional units with the expertise that are designated to provide specialist care for patients with cancer of the oesophagus including Galway, Cork and two Dublin hospitals, Beaumont and St James’.
It was proposed in 2007 by NCCP that the number of specialist delivery care centres be halved to just two, although this recommendation wasn’t acted upon, until now.
A committee set-up last year by NCCP to decide on the future of oesophageal cancer services is understood to have reached agreement and in the coming weeks will be formally recommending to the Minister for Health, James Reilly, that the Galway and Cork facilities be withdrawn.
Surgeons and consultants at GUH fear that the prop
osal to withdraw Galway and Cork and concentrate specialist cancer care in the two Dublin hospitals would result in patients in Galway and the West of Ireland being forced to commute to Dublin for investigation and treatment of stomach and oesophageal cancers.
The Galway centre also investigates and treats patients with non-cancerous conditions such as stomach ulcers and heartburn.
The Minister is expected to come under severe political pressure from patient groups and cancer charities in the West and South, as well as healthcare professionals, to reject any recommendation from NCCP to withdraw this cancer service from the regions.
Withdrawing the Galway specialist centre would exacerbate the ‘Dublin bias’ but could also result in several million Euros of GUH’s budget being transferred to the Dublin hospitals.
A Health Service Executive (HSE) West spokesperson yesterday referred all queries to the National Cancer Control Programme.
In a statement to the Galway City Tribune, a spokesperson at the NCCP offices in Dublin, said NCCP “is nearing the conclusion of the strategy for cancer services for upper gastrointestinal cancers”.
“There has been excellent input into the ongoing process from the clinicians in the four cancer centres which currently provide radical oesophageal surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. No decision has been announced,” it said.
The statement explained that oesophageal cancer is a “relatively uncommon cancer” which typically occurs in older patients, particularly those with a history of smoking.
The spokesperson said only a minority of patients are deemed suitable for radical treatment, as the cancer is often incurable at presentation or the patient is too frail for surgery.
“Putting it in perspective – on average, in Ireland, approximately 137 patients per year have been treated with curative intent and underwent oesophageal resection with or without chemotherapy and radiotherapy, of these, an average of 13 to 15 patients per year had surgery in Galway,” the statement added.