Missed cancers inquiry to be completed in six months

Independent investigation will review colonoscopies at Wexford General Hospital

An external review into 13 missed cancer cases at Wexford General Hospital is to be completed within six months.

The review will examine governance, accountability and authority at the hospital, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil yesterday.

The inquiry has been commissioned following the publication of a HSE review of 615 colonoscopies at the hospital, which found that 13 cancers were “probably missed”.

All 13 patients were examined by the same doctor, identified in the review as “Clinician Y”.


The Medical Council, which has been notified of the missed cancers, may decide to open disciplinary proceedings if it decides issues of poor professional performance or professional misconduct were involve.

The HSE will await a final response from Clinician Y to the review before deciding what action, if any, to take on the issues raised in the report, according to Ken Mealy, a consultant surgeon at Wexford General Hospital.

Return to work

It was not possible to say at this stage whether Clinician Y would return to work, he said.

Clinician Y does not accept the findings of the review

A spokeswoman for the Ireland East Hospital Group said a human resources process involving Clinician Y was ongoing, and therefore it could make no further comment.

Mr Mealy said a number of lessons had been learned during the HSE review and it was “highly unlikely” such a problem could ever occur again.

Changes have been made to the way key performance indicators are measured at the hospital and every test is now double-checked.

Although it was clear that cancers had been missed, it was hard to say what the consequences were for individual patients, he said.

“As a rule of thumb, the earlier the diagnosis of serious cancer, the better.”

Mr Mealy said it was vital that the overall BowelScreen programme was not damaged by the events in Wexford.

The programme helps to identify 400 bowel cancers a year, many of them in the early stages.

Avail of screening

Minister for Health

Simon Harris

also urged people to continue to avail of bowel cancer screening.

The importance of the programme should not be forgotten during “this sad and distressing situation”, he said.

In relation to the colonoscopies performed by Clinician Y, there were questions over whether the fibre-optic tube inserted into patients reached the end of the bowel.

Doctors carrying out the test take pictures using a tiny camera mounted on the tube during the procedure.

Mr Mealy said it was clear that the quality of pictures taken by Clinician Y was not as good as those taken by peers.

Colonoscopies are not 100 per cent accurate, due to factors such as poor preparation of the bowel or patients being intolerant to the test.

In such cases, however, alternative tests can be performed.

Fianna Fáil TD for Wexford James Browne said the independent investigator appointed to examine the issue must be given free rein to look at wider systems issues and not just the work of one doctor.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.