Inishowen woman’s relief at sarcoma specialist confirmation

Lorraine McBride (far right), pictured with Susan Keaton, Crona Ward and Matt Fitzgerald as they handed over the petition at St Vincent's University Hospital last Thursday.
Lorraine McBride (far right), pictured with Susan Keaton, Crona Ward and Matt Fitzgerald as they handed over the petition at St Vincent's University Hospital last Thursday.

An Inishowen woman says she is “emotional and overwhelmed” following confirmation the HSE has agreed to recruit a Sarcoma specialist at St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin.

Lorraine McBride, from Buncrana, joined a vigorous national campaign after it emerged the contract of Dr Alexia Bertuzzi, one of the few medical specialists in Ireland dedicated to combating the rare cancer, would not be renewed.

Lorraine was a patient of Dr Bertuzzi’s after being diagnosed with sarcoma in 2012 and re-diagnosed in 2014. She credits the renowned specialist with saving her life.

When the news emerged in June, Lorraine told the ‘Journal’ how she feared people’s lives would be endangered by the decision.

Last week, Lorraine was one of the campaigners with the newly-formed ‘Sarcoma Action Group’ who delivered a petition against the decision, which was signed by thousands of people, to St Vincent’s University Hospital.

Following this, the HSE announced at the weekend it was in talks to allow Dr Bertuzzi to continue to care for her exisiting patients, until a new full time oncologist with a speciality in sarcoma is appointed.

Dr Bertuzzi is understood to be meeting with the NCCP and the HSE this week to discuss the logistics of moving her patients to a new hospital location and ensuring this hospital is fully equipped to deal with the unique medical needs of sarcoma patients. 250 people in Ireland are diagnosed with sarcoma each year.

Lorraine, who underwent surgery following the return of her sarcoma in 2014, eventually losing part of her pelvis which left her with a permanent disability, said she was “overjoyed and overwhelmed” by the decision.

She outlined how the campaign began with a group of people in Dublin, who got the petition to the media and who were then joined by sarcoma patients across the country, “as we knew this was a very serious matter.”

She said: “It grew overnight and everyone was behind us. The sheer determination and hard work from some members of the group deserves a lot of praise for fighting to keep a Sarcoma specialist.”

Lorraine pointed out how many of the campaigners are undergoing treatment at the minute while others are fighting on behalf of sick family members.

Protests had been held outside St Vincent’s University Hospital and over 15,500 people signed an online petition. Campaigners demanded that a locum oncologist and specialist in sarcoma be retained at the hospital, the sarcoma centre of excellent.

At the weekend, it was confirmed that following discussions with the hospital and the department of health, a consultant oncologist specialising in sarcoma is to be recruited.

In a statement, the Sarcoma Action Group said they were “delighted.”

They recognised the work of Health Minister Minister Simon Harris and his team at the Department of Health, senior management of the HSE and Jerome Coffey from the NCCP. They alsp paid tribute to Professor John Crown’s support early in our campaign gave them “much hope.”

They added: “Sarcoma patients have received excellent medical care and attention at not only St Vincent’s University Hospital, but other hospitals that are involved in the many types of treatment that we require. We are eternally grateful for the high level of care from doctors, nurses, radiologists, lab technicians, porters and all hospital staff. This was never about you. We have made it very clear to the Minister for Health that our dispute is with SVUH management, who we feel has completely mismanaged this situation and caused untold stress to patients who are already dealing with a very high level of stress in their everyday life.

The group said they also respected the ‘talent and expettise’ of the other oncologists at the hospital, who have cared for sarcoma patients with “exceptional professionalism.” They added: “However, this cancer is so rare and complex that we need an oncologist who will focus specifically on sarcoma, hence the need for a specialist to be appointed.” See ‘Sarcoma Action Group Ireland’ on facebook for updates.