Friday, May 14, 2010

Colonoscopy waiting list times placing lives needlessly at risk

Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer in Ireland, with more than 50 per cent of bowel cancer patients diagnosed with the more advanced forms of the disease, stages 3 and 4. The unfortunate reality is that less than 5 per cent of patients with stage 4 bowel cancer survive more than four years. As with many forms of cancer, early detection is vital, and can mean the difference between life and death.

According to the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) a colonoscopy has been proven to be the most effective method to diagnose the disease. The ICS insist this procedure needs to be carried out between four and six weeks after referral. Indeed, in a letter back in December 2008, Health Minister Mary Harney herself told the HSE she wanted all people awaiting colonoscopies to be seen within one month.

Information provided by hospitals to the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), which manages public hospital waiting lists reveal that there are now 951 people in the 26-counties waiting longer than three months for a colonoscopy. That is an increase of 229 people on the waiting list from September 2009.

The information collated by the NPTF reveals that the figures for the waiting list at Sligo General Hospital has increased to 99 compared to 74 in March and 44 back in December. Galway University Hospital has also seen an increase of 70 percent with 106 patients now waiting for a colonoscopy, up from 62 patients in March, while the figures for Letterkenny General Hospital have jumped to 56, increasing from 43 in March and from 25 in December. The Beaumont Hospital in Dublin has gone from 66 to 131, a massive 98 percent increase. This is up from just 9 people on their waiting list back in December of last year.

The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) have described the increases across the majority of hospitals as very worrying. Kathleen O’Meara, Head of Advocacy and Communications at the ICS, said they were “seriously concerned to see that the total number of people waiting has increased by over 30 percent in just over six months.”

She also expressed concern over the impact these ever increasing waiting lists would have on the screening programme which is due to commence in 2012. According to Ms O'Meara “unless the problem of waiting lists is tackled in advance of screening being delivered, we are not sure that we can have full confidence in the ability of our hospital system to deliver screening while not impacting symptomatic services at the same time.”

This is all par for the course for an administration that has always shown contempt for the lives and well being of the people they claim to represent and govern on behalf of.

Health services have been slashed right across the board in recent years, with more cutbacks planned. We have seen the postponement in recent years of the cervical cancer vaccine for young girls which is only now being rolled out. Cut-backs in home help have also caused enormous hardship and anguish for elderly and ill people right across the country, as this service provided a lifeline for many vulnerable people in need of assistance. Now it is believed that the HSE are looking at closing or limiting the opening hours of accident and emergency units in order to cut the health budget even further.

Here in the north-west alone, we have seen the removal of 72 beds from Sligo General Hospital and the closure of wards. The Hospital is seriously understaffed with most wards operating with two to three nurses less than they require, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).

Cancer services were also removed last year to Galway University hospital which is unable to cope with the increased workload, as campaigners against the move accurately predicted. There was also a delay of ten years in bringing the breast screening service BreastCheck to the north-west. Now following its eventual arrival last year, it is short staffed, resulting in even further delays in women receiving their appointments for what is, like a colonoscopy, a potentially life saving procedure.

Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar is facing imminent cutbacks of €9 million and the closure of a male surgical ward and possibly more. Other smaller hospitals in the region are also suffering ward closures, staff reductions and reductions in services. In County Leitrim, and indeed a number of other counties around the state, it was recently revealed that they shamefully have no dedicated therapeutic services for children who suffer sexual abuse.

Mary Harney and her cabinet colleagues regularly talked about the need for prioritising. In fairness, she has kept her word. Her priority and that of her government colleagues is to protect the wealthy political and business elite and continue their greed before need and privatisation agenda at the expense of the working people and those most in need in this state.

Given the choice between creating and funding a first class health service freely and easily accessible to all, or bailing out the banks, they have chosen to bail out the banks. If people die as a result of their decisions, which they undoubtably have and will continue to, they are viewed as merely “collateral damage” in their ideological quest for profit and the attainment of ever increasing wealth.

Reacting to these latest figures, éirígí Sligeach activist Gerry Casey condemned the HSE and their political masters, described these lenghty waiting lists as “unacceptable” and “placing lives needlessly at risk”.

Casey said: "éirígí are extremely concerned at the continuing high numbers waiting more than three months to receive potentially life saving colonoscopy testing. The fact that an increasing number of patients referred to Sligo General and other hospitals around the state have to endure such a lengthy delay for their colonoscopy is totally unacceptable."

"Once again, the Dublin government and the HSE seem intent on needlessly putting people's lives at risk by not providing efficient and proven measures to detect and prevent the deaths of Irish citizens from various forms of cancer. As waiting lists and delays increase, as is currently happening, lives will inevitably be lost as a result of this debacle."

Casey concluded: "There is no excuse for people having to wait months for a procedure that could save their lives and which should happen within weeks of referral. It is a matter of deliberate political decisions being taken by this administration who have repeatedly shown that they care little whether working class people suffer unnecessarily or even die unnecessarily."

No comments:

Post a Comment