Reconstructive surgery linked to breast cancer classed as ‘non-essential’

Woman shocked to discover she’s unable to have reconstructive surgery due to Covid-19

A woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy last month has said she was shocked to discover that she would be unable to have reconstructive surgery due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Enda Waters (57), from Garretstown, Co Meath, had a mastectomy at the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin on January 21st after experiencing delays accessing services in the public system.

Ms Waters was diagnosed with two types of invasive breast cancer in early January after discovering a lump last December.

“At the time when I was told I had breast cancer and I would have to have a mastectomy, I immediately asked about reconstruction and my consultant said: ‘Whether you’re suitable for it or not, you’re not having it because the directive is that reconstruction is non-essential.’


“He said, ‘Our plastic surgeons have been told that they cannot work, it’s a non-essential surgery,’” Ms Waters said.

“I said what if I got my own plastic surgeon because I was going to go out and find one and he said ‘No, you won’t get one.’”

The Mater Private Network said it adheres to guidance from the Association of Breast Surgery (ABS) “which currently states that no immediate reconstructive surgery should be performed at this time due to Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions being in place”.

“Reconstructive surgery is immensely important for patients, and is a high priority for surgical staff at the Mater Private Network. We are extremely conscious of the need to resume this surgery as soon as is possible once the current health restrictions have been eased and guidance allows us to do so,” a spokeswoman for the Mater Private Network added.

Prostheses service

Ms Waters is due to undergo chemotherapy in the coming weeks, followed by radiation therapy. She said due to current public health restrictions she had also been unable to attend Almacare, a specialist post-mastectomy fitting service for prostheses and bras.

“It’s a terrible, daunting experience for women to suddenly discover that they’ve breast cancer and a vital part of their femininity is about to be cut off and then to be told ah well it’s non-essential,” she said.

“That was the bit that really irritated me. Some man made that decision, that this was going to be considered non-essential and closing Almacare as a non-essential service.

"I can go down to Easons and buy a colouring book and crayons, I can't go into Almacare and be fitted for a bra and a prosthesis which would make me look semi-normal.

“They’ve [Almacare] been in touch, they phoned me and said we’re closed, you can’t come in and be fitted for your bra and your fake boob. They’re only offering virtual fittings.

“I don’t even think the wig shop is open and all of the support services are online.”

Ms Waters, who is married with four children, said she was unsure when she might undergo reconstructive surgery and would possibly have to wait “until Covid is over”.

“I have reared my children and I have a loving husband but imagine people who have to go with one boob for months and they’re young and even people with young children,” she said.

“It’s scary enough to have to go through breast cancer and then to have your actual femininity taken away. You’re just left with the gash of a scar across your chest.”

Independent Senator Sharon Keogan raised the situation in the Seanad on Monday and asked why and by whom the decision was made to deem such surgery as "non-essential".

“I think those who made the decision failed to consider the huge physical and psychological impact a decision like this has on women who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer,” she said.

This article was amended on February 10th to incorporate a response from the Mater Private Network

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times