Letterkenny breast cancer pressure may be eased by new Derry radiotherapy unit

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Pressure on a sole breast cancer consultant at Letterkenny University Hospital may be eased by the new North West cancer centre Derry, which, at the start of May, had already seen 20 general cancer patients from Donegal.

According to the southern health authorities the hospital, like Altnagelvin, is often reliant on expensive locum doctors to help meet demand across a variety of specialities.

Irish Health Minister Simon Harris believes the state-of-the-art new radiotherapy centre in Derry, which started off treating prostate cancer patients last year but is now treating other cancers, including breast cancer, is an important part of the Letterkenny solution.

At present the Letterkenny breast cancer service operates as a satellite centre of University Hospital Galway. Mr. Harris has confirmed it is run by a single consultant who also undertakes general surgery at the hospital. The consultant is assisted by locums and by consultants from the Galway-based Saolta University Health Care Group.

In response to a question tabled by Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty, the Minister said: “At present, efforts are being made to recruit a full-time locum consultant surgeon to deal with the demands on the service. Consideration continues to be given to longer-term measures to meet the future requirements of the service, and staffing at consultant and other levels will be among the issues to be considered.

“As part of this, the possibility of further cooperation with health services in Northern Ireland is being considered by Saolta, the National Cancer Control Programme and the Department, building on the co-operation achieved in relation to the North West Cancer Centre at Altnagelvin Hospital, Derry.”

Mr. Harris has also revealed that between the North West Cancer Centre opening in November 2016 and May 5, 2017, 20 patients from County Donegal had been referred to the radiotherapy service reducing their travel times significantly.

“The service initially offered radiation therapy to patients with prostate cancer. Radiation therapy for patients with breast cancer has also now begun, with other cancer types coming on stream on a phased basis over the coming months,” he said.

Cross-border co-operation between the health authorities is also ongoing across a variety of specialities.

Since late May 2016 heart attack sufferers from County Donegal have been transferred to Altnagelvin.

“From May 2016 to the end of February 2017, 28 patients from County Donegal with a diagnosed ST-Elevation myocardial infarction (heart attack) have been transferred to the Altnagelvin catheterisation laboratory and have received Primary Percutaneous coronary intervention (pPCI) treatment,” said Mr. Harris.

“In addition to the substantive projects outlined above, Letterkenny University Hospital (LUH) also contracts a range of additional services from Altnagelvin on a cross border basis, meaning that patients can be treated much closer to home,” he added.