A CANCER screening programme that has saved 50 lives is to be shut down.
The scheme, which screens for bowel cancer, is the only one of its kind in the country and will not be replaced until 2012, when a national programme is due to start.
In the meantime, the team running it. led by gastroenterologist Professor Colm O’Morain, will be disbanded in June.
As a result, thousands of people who could be screened in the two years between then and the rollout of the national programme some time in 2012 will now be missed.
The delay could mean more cases like the tragic death in 2007 of Susie Long, who died of a cancer that would have been diagnosed had she not been forced to wait seven months for a colonoscopy.
Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly said: ‘This is typical of the HSE’s insistence on slashing services before there is an equivalent to replace them.’
A spokesman for Tallaght Hospital, where the screening unit is currently based, said: ‘We don’t have the resources to fund it.’
Kathleen O’Meara, Irish Cancer Society head of advocacy and communications, said: ‘The Tallaght pilot project proved its worth in terms of lives saved. It proved the case for a national programme.
‘It would be better if Prof. O’Morain could continue because his work has been extremely useful.’
The Tallaght project was set up in 2008 by Prof. O’Morain, head of health sciences at Trinity, after two years of planning and research.
Based at Tallaght Hospital, the programme worked around the delivery of test kits sent to 10,000 50 to 74-year-olds living locally.
The people’s names were taken from GPs’ patient lists and participants were asked to send back two stool samples in containers provided.
Samples were tested for the presence of blood and those who showed positive were invited to a Saturday clinic for colonoscopy.
It was during those tests that 50 cancer cases were diagnosed. Many more pre-cancerous growths were also found and treated.
In 2008, Health Minister Mary Harney told the HSE to cut public waiting times for colonoscopies to four weeks. This followed national outcry in 2007 at the case of Susie Long, who revealed on radio that she had faced a seven-month wait.
In spring 2009, reports to the minister by the Health Information and Quality Authority and the National Cancer Screening Service recommended a national programme. The NCSS said such a scheme would be the ‘single most important public health intervention ever in the Irish health service’.
An average of 2040 new cases of colorectal – or bowel – cancer were diagnosed each year between 2002 and 2005, with an average of 925 deaths occurring in each year.
Colorectal cancer is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer in men and women in Ireland.
We have the highest colorectal cancer mortality rate for men in western Europe. By 2020, it is estimated that new cases diagnosed here will have increased by 79pc in men and 56pc in women.
Dr Reilly said: ‘Why close down a perfectly good service that is saving lives on the promise of another service that is years away?
‘Despite concerns about the initial age range proposed in the national programme, I welcomed it as an important development.
‘Only in the loony world of Mary Harney and the HSE would the announcement of one life-saving measure mean another gets shut down.’
Unlike Prof. O’Morain’s project, the national scheme will be restricted to those aged 60-69, the highest-risk group. No date has been set for expansion.
Prof. O’Morain said: ‘I’d like to see funding extended – any test should be repeated after two years. A national programme is long overdue and it is great that one is on the way.
‘But it would be better if the age range were wider as the point is to catch people as soon as possible.’
Do you know (Robert) Michael Ward? Do you want to tell your story anonymously? Contact Random Irish News in the strictest of confidence.
A WOMAN is facing death from bladder cancer because her ex-fiancé told her he was a doctor who could cure her.
Michael Ward was jailed for five years yesterday after the court heard chilling details of how he ‘operated’ on his victim twice – in her own living room.
The ‘pathological liar and a dangerous fantasist’ had masqueraded as a high-flying medic – but he had no medical qualifications. His former fiancée remained undiagnosed for up to ten weeks because of his lies. Her potentially fatal tumour was finally discovered a week after he operated on her.
And the woman told how she believes Ward had allowed the court case to drag on because he thought she would be too ill – or even dead – by the time the trial came around. The gravely ill woman – who has not had a relationship since her ordeal – said she fought the case to stop 32-year-old Ward, from Co. Cork, from wrecking another life.
She said: ‘The only reason I have come this far and endured another three years of constant reminders is the thought that I could stop something like this happening to another woman.’
Last week, Ward pleaded guilty on day four of his trial to recklessly endangering her by masquerading as a doctor and purporting to treat her between August and October 2006.
He also pleaded guilty to assaulting her causing her harm.
When the pair met in June 2006, the respectable-looking man, with an address at Grove Road in Little Island, claimed to work as a doctor at the Mater Hospital in Dublin.
It later emerged that he was not medically qualified in any way and had even given her a fake name.
Detective Garda Kevin Keys yesterday told the Central Criminal Court that Ward and the woman had ‘a brief intense relationship’ in 2006.
But she knew him as Michael O’Brien, a paediatrician and medical doctor at Dublin’s Mater Hospital. He was actually a secondyear law student at the time.
He said the woman had been getting medical treatment for an undiagnosed condition and in August 2006 she told Ward’s about her problem.
He told her that her own doctors ‘did not have a clue’ and he ‘undertook the clinical management of her condition’.
He took daily urine samples, which he claimed were analysed by a lady called ‘Maria’ in the laboratories in the Mater Hospital, and then told her that a fictitious doctor – ‘Dr Harper’ – had diagnosed her as having an abscess on her bladder .
Ward prescribed antibiotics and specially prepared compounds before – on two days in October – he made her lie down on an air mattress for three hours, when he claimed he had inserted a ‘hypodermic syringe’ to both anaesthetise her and drain the abscess.
He had inserted a ‘plastic type object’ and left it there for several hours.
The object eventually ‘popped out’ and when the victim saw it, she thought i t looked like a syringe from a teeth whitening set.
He then ‘reinserted a new syringe’, the court heard . Detective Garda Keys said that during that two-day period Ward presented the woman with gifts of lingerie and a pair of boots which she later discovered had been bought with her own Laser card.
She confronted him about the unauthorised payments but he denied all knowledge. She went to the Mater Hospital a few days later to ask for Ward but discovered that he never worked there. Staff at the hospital made a complaint to the gardaí – and the woman was immediately referred to accident and emergency.
Her consulting doctor at the time prepared a report for the sen-tenchearing, in which he stated that he had no doubt that ‘by delaying appropriate medical treatment’ Ward had caused the woman serious harm.
He said the tumour was allowed to grow unchecked when it could have been treated.
His deceit was uncovered in mid-October, 2006, a week after the couple got engaged.
The woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was later diagnosed with a life-threatening and rare form of cancer which had gone untreated for eight to ten weeks after Ward ‘undertook the clinical management of her condition’.
The victim had the tumour removed on November 11, 2006, three weeks after she discovered that Ward had lied to her.
She remains gravely ill. The court heard Ward also deceived her about the death of his father – who is alive and works as a laboratory technician – as they were about to go on a mini-break to Rome after their engagement. And he also cancelled a trip to the U. S. at the last minute for ‘an emergency surgery’.
Ward was arrested in February 2007 and he told gardaí that the allegations were ‘frivolous’. He added ‘I have no comment’.
Detective Garda Keys read from a victim impact statement, that the woman felt Ward had deliberately used ‘stalling tactics’ throughout the case because she believed he wanted her to be either ‘too sick or no longer a l i v e to t e s t i f y i n the case’.
She said there was a strong possibility that she would not have been alive to see the case to completion – but she endured it because she thought by doing so she could prevent this from happening to ‘some-one’s daughter or sister’. The woman said she had been encouraged by both family and friends to concentrate on her recovery rather than the case – but she felt she had to pursue it.
She said that Ward showed no remorse and allowed her to take the stand ‘knowing as he did the truth of everything’, and knowing how ill she was. She said that after three years and four days into the trial he eventually pleaded guilty.
Detective Garda Keys said the woman described how she was too ‘consumed and devastated’ by the way Ward had deceived and manipulate her to have the strength to deal with her illness when she was first diagnosed. She said his actions ‘still take a toll on me’.
The garda said that she described Ward’s actions as a ‘brutal deceit’ that has resulted in her ‘losing my belief in the inherent goodness in people’ – but she hoped in time that she ‘could regain the trust I used to have’.
Mr Justice Peter Charleton described the case ‘as deeply sad’ and jailed Ward, of Little Island, Co. Cork, for six years – but he suspended the final year of the sentence on the condition that Ward keep the peace and be of good behaviour.
The judge said: ‘He was able to charm her into a relationship which was of no benefit to her.’
He added that the woman’s illness had been confusing for a long time and people in such situations would search around for help.
He did not accept that Ward had been in love with the woman . He told the court: ‘You do not deal with love through manipulation – but rather with the truth, and that is the basis for any really stable relationship.’
He added that he could not ignore the fact that by treating her with this ‘ridiculous scheme’ Ward knew he was limiting her chances of recovering from whatever illness she may have had.
He said that Ward had ‘presented himself as a high-flying doctor’ and the woman had put her trust in him which was ‘badly betrayed’.
‘I am not impressed that he pleaded not guilty, leaving her in a position to give evidence in what he knew to be the truth when she was gravely ill.’
He commended the victim on ‘her enormous courage in discussing private matters in a public forum’ and noted that her motivation had been to stop something like this happening to any other woman.
He said that it was hard to think of ‘a worse betrayal and endangering of someone’s life, even considering that it was part of a fantasy for him’.
But Patrick McEntee SC, defending, said it was ‘an extremely sad case’ and he had ‘express instructions from my client to apologise fully for the distress, pain and suffering’ that Ward had caused to the victim.
He asked Mr Justice Charleton to accept that Ward was ‘a seriously conflicted man who has problems with telling the truth and was sucked into a world of fantasy, a fantasy of being a doctor’.
He added that Ward ‘did not know and could not have known that the victim had cancer at the time and that while his interference allowed the disease to take some steps forward, he did not know that was happening.
‘He made an irresponsible decision, one he had no right to make and one that he never should have. He told lies but there was nothing in it for him.
‘There was no suggestion that he got sexual gratification for it. ‘He did a serious thing and he must be punished for it. If only to stop people masquerading as doctors,’ Mr McEntee said.
He then read from a letter from Ward’s mother, in which she described her boy as ‘a model son’ who had always been good to her, her husband, her daughter and grandson.
She said Ward acted as a father-type figure to his nephew, ringing him to check his homework was done and taking him to the cinema at the weekend.
She said the whole family was devastated and it was her worst nightmare that her only son was before the court .
He was a man she described as ‘not a bad person’ and someone who had always been a great source of pride for her.