Press Release

Minister Harney’s response to the Report on the Independent Review of Symptomatic Breast Care Services at Barrington’s Hospital, Limerick

The Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney TD, welcomed the publication today (1 April, 2008) of the report of the Independent Review of Symptomatic Breast Care Services at Barrington’s Hospital, Limerick

The Minister thanked Dr Henrietta Campbell and her team for undertaking the review in a timely fashion. The Minister acknowledged that a clinical report cannot reflect the worries and anxiety experienced by each woman involved.

The report confirmed that 2 women, who were among the original 10 cases referred to HIQA, had their cancer diagnosis delayed, potentially causing them serious harm. The review process did not identify any other women who had a missed or delayed diagnosis.

However, the Minister noted that the report finds that, of the 285 cases reviewed, in 118 cases: “it was the clinical and professional judgement of the review team that the level of clinical care was not always what they considered as appropriate”. The review team concluded: “their care did not meet the standards which would have been acceptable at their time of treatment”. She said “this level of inappropriate care is a serious concern and should not occur in any health service provided in the country.

“I anticipate that the Medical Council, the regulatory body for the medical profession, will fully examine the findings of this Report”

The Minister said “we are taking all possible action to ensure implementation of the National Quality Assurance Standards for Symptomatic Breast Disease in all healthcare facilities. We have also set out on a path of full statutory licensing of all facilities, both public and private”.

Breastcare Standards 

The Minister said “This report again highlights the need for continued implementation, in both the public and private healthcare sectors, of the National Quality Assurance Standards for Symptomatic Breast Disease Services which were approved by me last year under the Health Act 2007. The implementation of the Standards will ensure that every woman in Ireland who develops breast cancer has an equal opportunity to be managed in a centre which is capable of delivering the best possible results”.

The Minister also said that the Standards need to be applied to all hospitals, both public and private, that provide symptomatic breast disease services:“I strongly believe that symptomatic breast services should be provided only in hospitals which meet these standards in full. Eight centres have already been designated in the public system. Professor Tom Keane has been appointed to take control of the HSE’s National Cancer Control Programme. He has carried out a needs assessment in the 8 centres, including the Mid West Regional Hospital, Limerick and Cork University Hospital and resources have been assigned to the centres, aimed at allowing them to have the capacity to provide appropriate services and to meet the Standards. The Standards will clearly have implications for private facilities. Some have already ceased providing symptomatic breast services.”

The Minister noted that 16 hospitals with low case volumes have now ceased to provide breastcare services.

The HSE National Hospitals Office is shortly transferring full responsibility for all symptomatic breast services to the National Cancer Control Programme. The Programme recently completed a detailed review of resource requirements to create capacity for the progressive transfer of all symptomatic breast cancer services to the eight designated cancer centres with the objective of completing 60% transfer by the end of this year and 90% by the end of 2009. Funding of €5.8 million has been allocated across the eight centres from the Programme to support additional staff, including Consultant, Radiography, Nursing and clerical posts. Funding has also been allocated for some necessary additional equipment.

Patient Safety and Licensing

The Minister said that the issue of safety in the delivery of health services lies at the heart of any care system which has the confidence of the people using those services. “To obtain that confidence and progress the patient safety agenda, I established the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) in May last year primarily to embed safety and quality at all levels in all public healthcare settings.”

The process by which a regulatory regime such as that given to HIQA would be introduced first in the public sector is a feature of such developments in other jurisdictions. The extension of this type of monitoring and control to the private sector is a complex matter, which I have referred to the Commission on Patient Safety.

The Minister said “I set up the Commission on Patient Safety and Quality Assurance in January 2007. It is scheduled to report by July this year. The overall objective of the Commission is to develop clear and practical recommendations to ensure that quality and safety of care for patients is paramount throughout the entire health care system, both public and private. I particularly asked the Commission to bring forward proposals that will provide for the licensing of all healthcare facilities and this will include private hospitals such as Barrington’s.”