Cancer-screening device sits idle in hospital as private operator sought


A SPECIALIST cancer-screening facility in Cork will remain closed until later this year as a private provider is sought to operate it.

The purpose-built screening unit houses an unused €3.8 million Pet (positron emission tomography) scanner used for superior detection in oncology. The device is one of three in Ireland and its non-use is forcing patients in Munster to travel to St James’s or Mater hospitals in Dublin to be screened.

Lung cancer survivor and mother-of-four Martina Jones (49), from Douglas in Cork, has travelled to Dublin for a Pet scan twice. The journey is made all the more difficult, she said, because patients are asked to avoid children and pregnant mothers for up to eight hours after the procedure.

“People like me are leaving the Mater full of radiation. If I had this scan done in Cork, I could have got into my own car and returned to my own bed and burned the sheets afterwards. Instead, I have to make my way home by train. It’s impossible to avoid other people and it’s an excruciating journey, especially when you are already sick with cancer,” she said.

“When I was in CUH [Cork University Hospital], the nurses informed me of this machine. It’s still there, wrapped in plastic, lying idle. In the meantime, I’ve had to stay over in Dublin to attend my appointments. I can’t walk more than a few yards and this is a draining procedure. Cancer is everywhere and it is deadly, but still we are treated like we don’t exist.”

A capital budget of €6.8 million was allocated to the building and equipping of a specialist Pet/CT scanning facility in Cork in 2007.

In 2011, the number of Health Service Executive South referrals to Dublin rose to 150. In a statement yesterday, the HSE South said is was finalising a tender process for a private provider to manage the service.

“The tender documentation for the private provider is currently being finalised with the HSE National Procurement Office.”

Cork University Hospital management said the delay in operating the scanner was due to the Government’s recruitment embargo but it was “confident” the service will commence by April.

“CUH acknowledges the delay in commencing the Pet/CT service due to the moratorium and difficulty in recruiting additional specialist staff. However, hospital management are confident that the service will commence by the second quarter of 2012 through a managed service by a private provider.”