Public cancer patients are still required to travel to Dublin for state-of-the-art PET/CT (Positron Emission Tomography/Computed Tomography) diagnostic scanning, while the facility is available at UPMC Whitfield Cancer Centre in Waterford for those with private medical insurance.

The HSE’s failure to fund public patients to access this very precise scanning that assists with detecting the spread of cancer and how treatment is being responded to has been described by City Councillor Hilary Quinlan as ‘medical apartheid’.

“My understanding is that PET/CT combines two forms of scan to pinpoint more accurately the location of abnormal cell activity and to measure the extent of that activity”, he commented. “This then allows courses of treatment to be planned and delivered with greater precision and sooner which is important given that timely interventions are often the key to cancer survival. It also reduces the need for many other invasive, expensive and time-consuming tests.”

Cllr. Quinlan, who is chairman of the Health Service Executive (HSE) Regional Health Forum – South, has accused the HSE of ‘short-changing’ patients when it comes to accessing cancer care in Waterford and the southeast.

“While I remain committed to seeing the full range of cancer services provided at a single centre of excellence in Waterford Regional Hospital, the agreement in February 2007 between the HSE and UPMC Whitfield Cancer Centre at least spelt the end of the terribly unfair situation where public patients requiring radiotherapy had to travel for their treatment while those with health insurance were treated nearer home at Whitfield. However, I now understand that there is still very real inequity at work in that PET/CT which is the most advanced imaging technology available is in use at Whitfield for private patients who have or may have cancer but the HSE is not funding public patients to access this.

“It is absolutely imperative that all patients who require such scanning have access to it at the nearest available location – this can’t be decided by the lottery of whether they do or don’t have medical insurance. I now intend to raise this matter with senior HSE officials at the next meeting of the Regional Health Forum – South and am confident that I will have the support of my colleagues in doing so.

“We are fortunate to have a world leader in cancer care like UPMC Cancer Centres providing services in the southeast and it baffles me why the HSE apparently cannot reach an agreement allowing public patients access PET/CT at Whitfield, at least until such a time as it is available at Waterford Regional Hospital. No cancer patient should have to travel for or, worse again, be denied any facility available within a couple of miles of their regional hospital. Aside from the dreadful toll this takes on already frail patients, it is also uneconomical given the huge amounts the HSE spends on patient transport.”