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Calls for review of cancer treatment

The suspension of breast-cancer services at a private hospital in Limerick has led to calls for national quality standards and a patient-safety authority.

A Department of Health decision to suspend breast-cancer services at Barringtons Hospital after concerns were raised about the treatment given to some patients was welcomed by the Irish Cancer Society (ICS). The ICS called for the recently published National Quality Assurance Standards for Symptomatic Breast Disease Services to be implemented "without delay" by the Health Service Executive. ICS chief executive John McCormack said it is vital that a woman who goes to her GP with a breast change is referred to a specialist breast unit if she needs further investigation. He also said it is "of critical importance that a small number of specialist breast units in specialist cancer centres be officially designated and that the HSE implements the standards urgently". "National and international evidence shows that patients with breast cancer have the best chance of survival if they are treated in centres with teams of medical professionals working together and treating high numbers of patients. "Breast disease is being treated in many places where there is no system of care and this is entirely unacceptable," Mr McCormack added. The Department said last night that treatment of patients with breast cancer at Barringtons Hospital was suspended after concerns emerged about the way in which up to ten women were cared for. Their care will now be independently investigated, as will the care given to women who presented for breast cancer treatment at the hospital between September 2003 and August 2007. It emerged earlier this month that a woman (51) had her breast cancer diagnosis delayed by 18 months following an error in reading her specimen when it was sent for analysis by Barringtons to University College Hospital Galway. The attention of the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), an independent body set up to monitor safety quality, was then drawn to the treatment given to a further nine women at the hospital. It passed on the information to the Department of Health. The Irish Patients' Association said it welcomed the Limerick hospital's co-operation with the independent review of its patients' cases. "We trust that a statutory commission of enquiry to cover the pathology testing external to Barringtons and subsequent care will be supported by all political parties in a timely manner subject to a cabinet proposal to the Oireachtas," the body added. Labour Party health spokeswoman Liz McManus said it was now clear the Government needed to establish a patient safety authority. "At present, there is no proper regulatory framework for hospitals, and especially there are no controls at all over private hospitals," she said. "This matter highlights the dangers attached to the reckless promotion by the Minister [for Health Mary Harney] of private hospitals without providing proper safeguards for the protection of patients. Hundreds of women are now suffering severe anxiety as a result of this failure to protect them." Breast-cancer campaign group Europa Donna Ireland said the "constant drip-drip of information" about breast-cancer misdiagnosis and treatment was further eroding confidence in the health service's ability to treat the disease. Prof Rajnish Gupta, consultant medical oncologist at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital, said yesterday he had been raising concerns with the Department of Health and the HSE about the way in which breast cancer services were being delivered at Barringtons for the past three years but that little happened. Barringtons told The Irish Timesit was in "part-receipt" of the information provided to the HIQA by Prof Gupta. It would review all the information as soon as it was received.

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