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Doctor hits out over cancellation of cancer operations

Worrying development after some cancer ops were postponed
Seanin Graham

A DOCTOR has raised concerns about the cancellation of some urgent cancer operations in Northern Ireland and warned of the “devastating” impact on patients.

The Irish News has learned that a number of urgent cancer surgeries were 'postponed' over the past two months in what is being seen as a hugely significant development in the north's crisis-hit health service.

While routine procedures are sometimes cancelled at this time of year due to winter pressures, cancer patients are almost never affected.

Dr George O’Neill, a GP based in the west of the city, confirmed that one of his patients was among those who had their surgeries put back in December.

The patient, who has three young children and was diagnosed with a rare tumour, had her operation cancelled at 24 hours notice due to anaesthetist shortages.

Dr O’Neill said he only was only aware of the case as the woman had contacted him directly and asked him to intervene.

"I would have serious concerns there are others in a similar situation but do not have the confidence to come forward to us - is this the tip of the iceberg?" he said.

"It is very significant that 'red flag' cancer patients are being cancelled as the whole point of urgent cases is that they're seen straight away.

"My patient was diagnosed very quickly - in fact the system worked perfectly and was an exemplar in how red flag patients should be seen. But everything fell apart when it came to the surgery with a three-week delay.

"While this may seem like a short time as a statistic, it can be devastating for the patient and created a lot of anxiety for this young mother who was worried that the tumour was growing and the cancer was spreading. We are talking about individuals here living in their own personal hell because they've been told they have a growth.

"In this particular case, the reason given was there was no anaesthetist available - could no other anaesthetist be found?"

The Irish News asked the Health and Social Care Board, which is responsible for monitoring and managing the performance of health trusts, for the number of cancelled cancer operations for the last two months.

A spokesman confirmed there were four in January but was unable to provide figures for December.

He was also unable to say which trusts were affected or the reasons for the cancellations.

The Board, which is due to be abolished within the next 18 months following the health minister's concerns about its own performance, did not record the cancelled surgeries in the minutes of its January meeting.

Its director of performance, Michael Bloomfield, and chief executive, Valerie Watts, declined interview requests.

Instead, in a statement, a spokesman said: "Health trusts have now advised that four cancer patients had their procedures cancelled during January 2016; all of these patients have since been treated."

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