Earlier this week the figures provided by the National Screening Service to my colleague, an Teachta Cullinane, show a massive backlog in cancer screening throughout the State. It highlights that a catch-up programme is urgently needed. The figures show that fewer than 100,000 people have been screened through the State's three cancer screening programmes this year compared with five times that - half a million people - who were screened last year. More than 450 cancers and 1,600 precancer diagnoses may have been missed this year, according to the Irish Cancer Society. We understand that services have had to be curtailed due to Covid-19, but we need a catch-up programme and the Government must deal with that urgently.
Today, I raise a report published last week into gynaecology services in Letterkenny University Hospital. The report was commissioned after a hard-fought battle by patients and their families who knew that there was something deeply wrong about the services in that hospital. Hospital consultant, Dr. Margaret McMahon, who watched her sister die from endometrial cancer, was at the heart of this. She contacted Saolta University Health Care group in Letterkenny and made it aware that she believed women's lives were at risk as a result of the practices in the hospital. She knew from her sister's experience that it was a serious issue, but it fell on deaf ears. She contacted the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, in 2016 and relayed the same information to him. Desperate, in 2017 she contacted him again and told him she would leave her consultancy practice in England and jump on a plane if he could give her five or ten minutes to explain to him why women's lives were being put at risk in Letterkenny University Hospital. I understand that the Minister responded by giving her the address of the Ombudsman.
Margaret McMahon and other patients' families have been completely vindicated by the report that was published last week because it is clear that the situation in Letterkenny University Hospital did put women's lives at risk and women have lost their lives as a result of the practices there. Of the 133 cases of endometrial cancer over a ten-year period, one in three women experienced a delay in their diagnosis, one in five women who had endometrial cancer suffered significant consequences as a result of a delay. Ten of these women have passed away since, and a significant portion of those deaths is because of the delays and the service. The report reveals a litany of failures which had devastating and life-changing consequences for these women. At the time of the independent review, when Margaret was forced to go public and reach out to politicians like myself who raised these cases in the Dáil, two women were waiting for urgent referral to that hospital for four years. That is how bad the situation is.
I will put some of the findings on the record:
It is clear that the experience for these women, and the service provided to them, was unsatisfactory. All cases, in one form or another, are typified by delay – delay from an urgent GP referral to a gynaecology outpatient appointment; from gynaecology outpatient appointment to urgent diagnostics ... and-or from diagnostics to intervention.
It says there were suboptimal practices with no evidence of implementation of recommendations that were previously given. A significant amount of responsibility lay with the oncology liaison nurse who had no written description of her roles or responsibility.
Will the Minister ensure that each and every recommendation by the independent panel is reviewed? Will he ensure that there is a proper review that goes wider than endometrial cancer in that hospital? Will he consider the independent panel recommendation for a full audit to be carried out throughout the State to ensure that Letterkenny is not an outlier?