I recently received correspondence from a sarcoma patient. I do not want to divulge the name of the patient even though she has subsequently raised the issue on social media. It is quite a distressing email in many ways. As the Minister should be aware, sarcoma is a fairly rare type of cancer. It accounts for about 5% of all cancers. We presently have about 200 to 250 patients who present with this disease every year in Ireland. This sarcoma patient has been attending a particular doctor in St. Vincent's Hospital. The doctor specialises in this type of cancer and has more than 300 patients in her care as we speak. Now, the patients are horrified to learn that this talented, hard-working and knowledgeable doctor is being let go by St. Vincent's. The patients feel that the proposed replacement, while vastly experienced, does not have the sarcoma expertise and also has a very busy private practice. In short, 300 patients are sceptical that they can get the same care and attention that they currently get.
St. Vincent's University Hospital, Dublin, is in the privileged position to have a wonderful resource at a centre of excellence with the treatment of sarcoma in its oncology unit through a particular consultant who is among the few worldwide experts in the treatment of sarcoma. This centre of excellence, which has been established over the past three years, has given treatment and hope to hundreds of sarcoma patients, enhancing survival rates and in many cases making survival possible where previously little hope was given. The patients feel that this kind of expertise in such a rare cancer takes years and years of research and experience. Regrettably, this is about to change when the contract of this invaluable resource is to be terminated.
The patients do not seek to comment on the contractual issues of any member of the HSE, but to highlight how the loss of this expert resource will impact on the care and treatment in the future. This level of knowledge, experience and expertise of sarcoma cannot be replaced by an expert in another field of cancer. Yet, it seems that this is about to happen. Patients are frightened for the future. One e-mail I received described the feeling of having finally found a place that feels safe and offers so much hope, only to see it about to be taken away, not just from the 300 of today's sufferers but from the sufferers of next year and the year after. They are frightened and they want to keep this particular oncologist expert in sarcoma. If we continue with her employment, the patients are confident that we will see the survival rates improve to secure the future lives of many children and young adolescents who are about to embark on lives they have every right to enjoy.
The patients that have received excellent treatment in St. Vincent's are very concerned that this particular expert in the area, who has built up a wealth of knowledge and experience over many years, will have her contract terminated shortly. They do not believe that the replacement can bring the same level of support and service that they require and need for what is a very challenging disease and illness. It is life-limiting in many cases. I recall the e-mail I received that spoke of having finally found a place that feels safe that is now about to be taken away.