A former three-time Mayor of Waterford said this week he was sick and tired of negativity in relation to local cancer services and, outlining plans which appear to promise major improvements over the next few years, he appealed to people to give them a chance to work.
Cllr Hilary Quinlan, who is also chairman of the HSE South Forum, said the new plan, confirmed by Professor Tom Keane, Interim Director of the National Cancer Control Programme, offered 59 cancer beds in all at Waterford Regional Hospital, designated as one of eight centres of excellence for cancer care under the NCCP.
Critics of existing services, including South Eastern Cancer Foundation spokesperson Jane Bailey, have been identifying a cut in projected cancer beds, from 42 promised by Bertie Ahern five years ago to 19 in the current plan.
But Cllr Quinlan said that not alone would those 19 in-patient beds be of the highest quality in that they would be in single rooms, offering top grade infection control as well as privacy, but an additional 30 day-unit beds and 10 “review” beds were also included in the plan.
As for the timescale within which the new facilities will be provided, the straight-talking Fine Gael councillor cannot be sure, but he has been told by the HSE that the project might go to tender next year, which would facilitate a 2010 construction start.
Faith in professor Keane
“Bertie Ahern’s promises are past tense and this proposal is far preferable”, he said. And he has faith in Professor Keane to oversee its delivery. “He is an eminent and distinguished professional who doesn’t beat about the bush and I believe he has every intention of seeing the Cancer Control Programme through”, he stated.
He stressed that ‘the new and improved design’ of the care centre followed consultation with medical, surgical, nursing and management personnel who had been involved in cancer care and were highly knowledgeable about it. “The majority of consultants and management are four-square behind this plan, which is based on international best practice”, he emphasised. “It will deliver the highest quality care for the patients of the south east”.
Cllr Quinlan pointed out too that Waterford Regional Hospital, now the centralised location for breast surgery, had three consultant oncologists, which was more than some hospitals of similar standing could claim.
“There are some brilliant consultants and frontline staff in WRH and this new plan looks the way forward to me”, he said. Critical of some elements in the media for persistent negativity on the subject, he appealed for people to give a chance to the promised new service which he firmly believed would be delivered in the medium term future and augured well for cancer treatment in the future.
He conceded that the continuing lack of a hospice in Waterford was a major minus factor for cancer patients and their families and he pledged to keep pushing for its provision, costly though it would be.
Long time critic
Cllr Quinlan was speaking at Monday night’s meeting of the City Council after it was addressed by Ms Bailey who has been a long time critic of cancer services in Waterford and the region. She said political pressure applied over the years had yielded some success, but it was vital that it be maintained if further progress was to be made.
She had spoken of the HSE’s decision to scale back the proposed 42-bed oncology unit at WRH to 19 dedicated beds and said funding for a hospice there had been “pulled”. It was outrageous, she said.
She said the decisions were in no way in the best interests of cancer sufferers in the south east, with 40-60 beds at WRH currently occupied by cancer patients at any given time. The numbers of cancer sufferers in the region were expected to treble in the next 20 years.
Challenging the contention that the revised plans had been arrived at through consultation involving senior personnel involved in cancer care, Ms Bailey said it was a complete lie by HSE management to present a 19-bed unit as serving the needs of the south east. “This reduction of the oncology ward will cause untold hardship for cancer sufferers”, she maintained.
Commenting on the lack of funding for a hospice, Ms Bailey further noted that the South East had been identified as one of three regions in the country that could not provide a minimum level of palliative care services. “Sixty two per cent of Waterford patients who died from cancer did so in hospital, compared with 23 per cent in the northeast because there was a hospice in that region”, she argued.
In a statement, the HSE said that as well as the 59 cancer bed total earmarked for WRH, the new also included an expanded outpatient facility including consulting, diagnostic and treatment facilities for breast care and facilities for other cancer services and it was set to cost about €10 million more than the original scheme.