Any delay in developing a new €30-million cancer treatment centre in Galway is “completely unacceptable”, the president of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) has said.
And the west's largest cancer support charity, Cancer Care West, has said it is "very disappointed" at a potential setback to plans for the facility at University Hospital Galway (UHG), due to government funding pressures. Chief executive of the charity Richard Flaherty said patients from Atlantic seaboard counties will be affected if the new radiation oncology unit is postponed for a second time.
Dr Maitiu Ó Tuathail, president of the NAGP, said the new radiation oncology unit and a new emergency department had been promised “again and again” at UHG.
“People in the west of Ireland already contend with a substandard, and at times, dangerous, ambulance service,” he said.
"The emergency department at UHG is unfit for purpose and the oncology services at UHG cover an area which stretches from Donegal to Athlone to Clare."
He said the people of the west of Ireland pay equal taxes to the rest of the country but do not receive the same standard of healthcare.
“This cannot continue,”he said.
Mr Flaherty and Dr Ó Tuathail were responding to a report in Saturday's Irish Times that a funding shortfall in the health service capital budget could delay a number of projects, including the west's new radiation oncology unit, a new acute psychiatric unit in Sligo and a new renal unit at Tallaght hospital in Dublin.
Mr Flaherty said the new unit in Galway had been scheduled for 2015 originally, to allow the current cancer treatment unit – opened in 2005 – to increase from three linear accelerators to four, with a capacity for five.
“If this is now pushed back again to 2019, that means work starts in 2020 at the very earliest,” Mr Flaherty said.
Patients were already travelling long distances from Donegal, Sligo, Roscommon, Mayo, Leitrim and Clare to attend the current unit at the centre of excellence in Galway, and equipment which was already more than 10 years old required replacement, he pointed out.
The HSE has already invited tenders for the construction of a three-storey radiation oncology centre at UHG, to include seven radiotherapy treatment vaults, a brachytherapy suite, two CT rooms, on-treatment support and ancillary physics, treatment planning and administration facilities.
The tender published during the summer said a new 8,000sq m building would be connected to the existing hospital via a single-storey corridor, and it was envisaged it would take 14 months to complete.
Long bus journeys
Cancer Care West provides accommodation for 33 patients and family members at its Inis Aoibhinn centre on the University Hospital Galway grounds, while Derry’s Atlnagelvin Hospital is taking some patients from Donegal.
However hundreds more undertake long bus journeys for seven to eight-week treatment programmes, Mr Flaherty said.
"Dublin has three centres for radiotherapy, and better public transport with the Luas and the Dart, while that is not an option for someone living in Mayo's Belmullet. "
Galway city mayor Niall McNelis has also called on Minister for Health Simon Harris to close the €109 million funding gap in the health service's capital budget to ensure the "essential" cancer treatment unit is built.
Mr McNelis said the reported delay was “very worrying”, and came as a blow to cancer patients in the west and northwest.
“For the last few months we’ve been inundated with Government spin about their capital plan Ireland 2040 yet, at the first hurdle, it is clear that there isn’t enough investment in essential services,” he said.