Friday, March 20, 2009

Concerns over future of Tallaght Hospital

Clondalkin Sinn Féin Councillor Shane O 'Connor and local election candidate Matthew McDonagh have expressed Serious concerns about the future of Tallaght Hospital as a result of current plans to close down most of its major cancer services and relocate them elsewhere.
However despite these concerns, the hospital says it has now accepted the plan to establish eight designated cancer centres around the country and to transfer cancer services from Tallaght.A senior consultant and board member at the hospital told the Department of Health recently that Tallaght could "close as a viable facility" as a result of plans to relocate its major cancer services elsewhere , has learned.Dr Stephen Lane, in a letter to a Department of Health official last November, said up to 60% of the work at Tallaght is involved in cancer."Unless a 'magic wand' can fill this gaping downgrade in services in the immediate term, this effectively means closure of the hospital as a viable facility", he said.Dr Lane added that on the basis of best available data, Tallaght is the third busiest cancer centre in the country, yet was being forced to transfer its cancer services elsewhere.Referring to the current cancer services reorganisation plan, Dr Lane said: "We are not Ennis, Castlebar etc, with no disrespect intended to those institutions."He feared a major downgrade "if not closure" of Tallaght.Last month, Cancer 'Tsar' Prof Tom Keane said it was planned to transfer breast cancer services to St James's and St Vincent's Hospitals from Tallaght by late spring. Other major cancer services are set to be transferred from Tallaght.Dr Lane told the Department of Health that there were "grave concerns" at Tallaght that it is being instructed by the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) under Prof Tom Keane to remove all cancer surgery from the hospital "in the absence of a cogent and resourced plan as to where all our cancer patients are to be followed up."He said the hospital believed this to be unsafe in the short term for patient care.Dr Lane added there were growing concerns that the rigid timeline of the cancer services reconfiguration regarding Tallaght is an "irresponsible decision" and the numbers of patients attending Tallaght for cancer care have been seriously underestimated.He said there has been no attempt at a "plan B" as to where all these vulnerable patients with cancer were going to go for their care in the immediate and intermediate future.Dr Lane expressed concern about the capacity of St James's Hospital at this stage to take on Tallaght's cancer patients and called for the timeframe for the transfer to be altered.The correspondence was made available under FOI. Dr Lane's concerns were passed on to Prof Keane by the Department, the corresponence shows.FOI documentation also shows that shortly after Dr Lane's letter late last year, the Tallaght Board met with Health Minister Mary Harney and her officials on the cancer transfer.The minutes of the meeting show that Dr Lane reiterated its concerns about the timeframe for the cancer services transfer and said patients must be transferred in a safe fashion.He called for some latitude over the transitional period while services were being transferred from Tallaght.Another Tallaght board member, Dr Ian Graham, said at the meeting that while Tallaght was utterly committed to the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) process, there must be a fair and equitable division of services between hospitals.The Minister, at the meeting, agreed that further engagement with Prof Keane was needed to ensure a smooth and safe transition of services from Tallaght.Asked about Tallaght's concerns, the NCCP told that planning for the transfer of the diagnostic and surgical components of the Tallaght Breast Unit to St James's and St Vincent's is underway.It said medical oncology services for breast cancer patients will continue to be provided in Tallaght for the hospital's catchment area."The NCCP is seeking to ensure that this transfer occurs in a safe and appropriate manner in the best interest of patients. Tallaght Hospital has established a transition group to allow for this to be safely achieved," an NCCP spokeswoman said.She added that St James's and St Vincent's are working with the NCCP to ensure that the necessary services and resources are in place to allow for this transfer."The NCCP would reiterate our commitment that no transfer will not occur until we are satisfied that the designated cancer centre (at St James's and St Vincent's) is in a position to care for the patients."According to hospital sources at Tallaght, while concerns remain about the hospital's future, it has in general been accepted that the cancer move will inevitably go ahead, and the NCCP has stressed that an exception cannot be made in Tallaght's case.A spokeswoman for Tallaght Hospital said it had accepted that plan to establish eight leading cancer centres in Ireland. "This is the best assurance to patients that cancer diagnosis and care wil be of the highest quality."The hospital said its board had "one overriding motivation" in this plan and that was "to ensure that the best cancer care for all present and future patients in Ireland."The hospital spokeswoman said Tallaght is confident that the hospital will continue to develop into the future. She said the recent report recommending that the Coombe Hospital should transfer to Tallaght has been warmly welcomed by the Tallaght board.It is understood that the current deadline for transfer of breast cancer services from Tallaght is now early summer at the latest.
While Tallaght may gain a maternity unit in the future, it may also lose its major children's hospital when the new Mater children's hospital is built.However, this project may now be long-fingered as a result of the economic crisis.Councillor Shane O Connor and Sinn Féin will continue to put pressure on the Government to overturn these disgraceful cutbacks to health service in Tallaght Hospital.

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