Leading article

Retired nurse's cancer experience raises serious questions for health service

While the health service in Northern Ireland had to undergo a swift and necessary reconfiguration to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, there was always a risk that patients with serious conditions would face worrying delays in diagnosis and treatment.

It has to be accepted that at the outset the health authorities were facing an unprecedented challenge with predictions of a potential death toll that was shocking in its scale.

The public understood that far-reaching measures had to be put in place to mitigate the worst impact of the virus, reducing the spread of infection and ensuring that hospitals were not overwhelmed.

There was also a recognition that the focus on coronavirus and a wider fear factor could have a detrimental impact on non-Covid cases, so patients were encouraged not to ignore symptoms and to seek medical care if they had concerns.

This is especially important with regard to certain conditions, including cancer, where any delay could have the most profound consequences.

Even with our truly dreadful waiting lists, we like to think that if someone needs urgent treatment for a life-threatening illness that they will receive prompt attention.

Unfortunately, one Co Antrim woman who dedicated her life to the care of others, has told how when she needed the health service, it was not there for her.

In a powerful interview in this paper, Cassie McNeill, who worked as a midwife and nurse from the age of 17 until her retirement at 65, detailed how she was referred by her GP for an urgent consultation in January this year and should have been assessed within a fortnight.

However, three months later she was forced to spend £3,000 to have private tests that confirmed she had a large cancerous tumour.

Given her background, the 77-year-old knew how to source a private surgeon but she rightly points out that not every patient would have the knowledge or means to do the same.

The question for the health service is how many people with cancer and other serious conditions have fallen through the cracks during this pandemic?

Now that we are through the peak of coronavirus, there will be an expectation that services will return to relatively normal levels and an intense focus placed on those who have experienced delays or cancellations in recent months.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Leading article