SERIOUS concerns have been raised about gynaecology services at Letterkenny University Hospital after a second family has come forward about their mother’s delayed diagnosis of uterine cancer at the hospital.
Edel Peoples, who lives in Convoy, has formally requested the HSE to review her mother’s case after she was diagnosed with stage four cancer 18 months after first presenting to the hospital. She has requested that an internal review be carried out by an external investigator, by someone outside of the jurisdiction, within an eight-week period and has also sent a letter to The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) and the Minister for Health, Simon Harris.
Edel said she was prompted to come forward after reading an interview in the Donegal News with Dr Margaret MacMahon, a hospital consultant working in the UK, whose sister Carol passed away in March 2015, from cancer of the womb (uterus), a treatable condition that was missed because no tissue samples were taken.
After spending two and a half years fighting for acknowledgement that there were serious failings in her sister’s case, the clinical director of the HSE’s national women and infant health programme, Dr Peter McKenna, published a report outlining the failings. Dr MacMahon has since called for a review of similar cases at the hospital and has raised serious concerns about patient safety.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week Edel explained that reading the article was like “déjà vu” as it was so similar to her mother’s case.
“I felt like I was reading about mammy when I was reading the article. That is what prompted me, it was too close to the bone. I felt like I was reading about my own mother. I thought how many more women has this been happening to,” said Edel.
Edel’s mother first presented to the hospital in October 2015 but it wasn’t until May 2017 that she received her terminal diagnosis. Sadly she passed away on October 2, 2017.
“Mammy presented in late October 2015 and was diagnosed in May 2017 but in those intervening 18 months she had multiple scans and various invasive investigations. There is no evidence of tissue sampling of the area that caused suspicion from the outset. These were all specially tailored gynae investigations and then we end up with a stage four disease that really was terminal at diagnosis and it is the number one cause on her death cert. Mammy trusted a system that let her down badly and it is a safety issue. Women need to be able to trust in a safe and accessible service.”
Edel made reference to campaigner Vicky Phelan’s book ‘Overcoming’ in which Vicky wrote: “I had done everything they had asked me to do – I’d been to every gruelling treatment, and now here I was three years later with terminal cancer’. “Mammy had done exactly all that too but in essence it had all been a waste of time,” said Edel.
Edel’s mother’s last scan before her diagnosis was on April 20, 2017 which showed considerable changes. Surgery was recommended and although the family had serious concerns for their mother’s gynae health, they were told it would be July 3rd before she could be seen at a clinic.
Given that this was more than two months later, Edel decided to intervene to get her mother the treatment she needed.
“Purely through my own intervention and assistance of friends, who happened to be health professionals in positions that could help me, we had mammy seen, diagnosed and surgery by June 6 when we would have still been waiting over a month to even been seen,” she said.
“We need earlier referrals to these centres. Mammy saw the consultant in James’ Hospital on a Thursday morning and he had a tissue sample diagnosis by that afternoon. In recent times we hear so much about success rates and advances in cancer treatment but that is really dependant on cancer being detected and treated at an early stage and if we can’t detect it at an early stage then we have lost that chance of a cure for that person.”
By telling her story Edel is hoping it might prompt other families who have had similar experiences to come forward and for women to ask more questions about their treatment.
The Donegal News contacted Saolta for a comment but they did not respond at the time of going to print. Previously the HSE stated, following Dr McKenna’s review of Carol MacMahon’s case, The National Women and Infants Health Programme engages with Saolta on a quarterly basis. They said: “There are significant issues with gynaecology capacity nationally and the NWIHP is currently developing a plan to substantially increase capacity, which will reduce the risk of this tragic event reoccurring.”