Huge Cancer Care Flaws Exposed

THE report into the breast cancer misdiagnosis of Rebecca O’Malley yesterday exposed major flaws in patient care and raised serious concerns about two hospitals designated as national “centres of excellence”.

The investigation sought to discover how Mrs O’Malley (42), of Ballina, Co Tipperary, who attended Limerick Regional Hospital, was wrongly given the all-clear after her biopsy was misread at Cork University Hospital laboratory in April 2005.

However, when she returned for further examination on the advice of her GP in May 2006, it was found she had cancer and needed an emergency mastectomy the following month.

Mrs O Malley yesterday accused the hospitals of playing “Russian roulette” with patient safety and urged other women to ask questions about their care.

The report carried out by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) found the first misdiagnosis by the pathologist at the Cork laboratory was a “once-off” mistake and the specialist did not make an error in the case of other patients.

In a worrying finding, the expert group said the laboratory error could have been picked up if the specialists in Limerick Regional had carried out a fully functioning multidisciplinary review of her case. It noted a “missed opportunity”.

Although Limerick Regional is one of eight designated “centres of excellence” for cancer patients, the report revealed it was not the practice there to have these multidisciplinary reviews when discussing a patient.

Among other damning findings from yesterday’s report was the fact that the quality of samples taken from patients with suspected cancer sent to the laboratory in Cork University Hospital, another designated centre of excellence, was poor.

Commenting on the report, which has 15 recommendations, head of investigation Michael Durkin said the managers and clinical teams of all hospitals providing breast cancer care should read the findings. He added they should use the findings to ensure mistakes were not repeated.

Asked what level of confidence women could now have in hospitals providing breast cancer care, Tracy Cooper, HIQA chief executive, said that many hospitals were meeting best standards but that it was up to the Health Service Executive (HSE) to ensure any gaps were filled.

There was no reaction from Limerick Regional or Cork University Hospital. They relied instead on a statement from the HSE which said many recommendations had already been implemented.

A special phone line has been set up for current or former patients of Mid-Western Regional Hospital Limerick or Cork University Hospital who may have concerns. The numbers are 061-483286 and 061-483287 for Limerick and 1850 742 000 for Cork.

l The resignation of Mater Hospital cancer specialist Des Carney as chief oncologist in the north east was raised in the Dail last night.

The row follows the decision to review the work of another consultant radiologist who may have misdiagnosed up to four patients with lung cancer.

The case of Dr Carney, who resigned from his post last October over the failure to consult him about the transfer of patients from the north east to Beaumont, was raised last night by Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd. He obtained a letter from Dr Carney sent to the HSE last month withdrawing his resignation as a result of concerns about patients.

However, the HSE has now refused to accept this withdrawal of Dr Carney’s resignation.

He has previously been critical of resources in the cancer unit in Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda.