Threat to Letterkenny breast service denied by hospitals group

Donegal cancer surgeon Michael Sugrue raises concerns over lack of resources

Health bosses say there is no threat to the future of breast cancer services in Co Donegal despite claims locally they will be closed.

The only breast cancer surgeon at Letterkenny General Hospital has alleged the Saolta University Hospitals Group want to close the service down and centralise it in Galway.

Michael Sugrue is being prevented from doing his job in a way which is designed to force his resignation, he has told local station Highland Radio.

He is the second senior surgeon at Letterkenny to speak out about a lack of resources; earlier this month, urologist Kevin Moran tendered his resignation over a lack of access to bed, operating theatres and staff.


Saolta chief executive Maurice Power said it was committed to maintaining the breast cancer service in Letterkenny, though he added that changes are being made to patient referral procedures.

In a letter to local GPs, Mr Sugrue said the service was being increasingly fragmented by the Saolta group, which is responsible for hospitals in the West and North-West.

Among the measures he said were aimed to close or downgrade the unit were a refusal to appoint a second surgeon and the transfer of referral letters to Galway against the wishes of the Letterkenny unit.

Saolta confirmed that 65 patients at Letterkenny were being offered appointments in University Hospital Galway (UHG) because of delays in seeing them within the recommended 12-week time frame. They had the option of waiting for a later appointment in Letterkenny, but were being “clinically advised” to take the earlier one in Galway.

Saolta chief operating office Tony Canavan said it was re-introducing the availability of "support services from Galway" to ensure patients were seen within recommended time frames.

“The provision of appointments at UHG is part of the support services that Saolta is providing to the breast service at Letterkenny.”

Additional clinics have been put in place, and a locum breast surgeon appointed at Letterkenny, he pointed out.

He confirmed the group was finalising plans to centralise the referral process for its breast service. “Currently referral letters are sent to Letterkenny and to Galway and it is proposed to centralise the assessment of these letters in Galway.”

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

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