Life-saving bowel screening scheme scrapped.

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.’

US ambassador Foley ‘hitched’

AFTER years of speculation about his various ‘close friends’ while in Ireland, the US ambassador has finally came clean.

Speaking at his leaving do at the ambassador’s official residence in Phoenix Park, Dublin, Thomas C Foley revealed he is engaged.

But the name of his intended will not ring any bells with anyone here, despite the women he was linked to over the years.

Last night he said: ‘Contrary to what some people have said about me, the young lady I am going to get married to lives . . . in the States.’

He revealed he got engaged to one of George Bush’s associate councillors at The Whitehouse Leslie Fahrenkopf last summer, and the couple intend to start a family after an ‘April or May’ wedding.

Last night, the father-of-one said: ‘I’ve been associated with a number of people and almost all of what has been said about those friendships has been untrue.

‘The truth is, I’ve made some good friendships while I have been here. And that is really all there is to say about them.

‘One of the reasons why I am marrying soon is because I am not getting any younger.’

Previously 53-year-old divorcee Foley has been linked to actor John Hurt’s ex-girlfriend Sarah Owen.

She was writing for a self- styled ‘thinking woman’s’ magazine while he was – or so people thought – very much the eligible man about town, regarded as a proverbial ‘poster boy’ for her affluent, middle-aged readers of The Gloss.

That they were supposed to be something of an item last summer – around about the time Mr Foley had dropped down on bended knee and proposed – was the talk of Dublin’s social whirl.

Another woman he was linked to was RTE’s Mary Kennedy, but now all that seems to be little more than ‘idle gossip for the chattering classes’ – as one Foley aid put it last night.

Before he made his announcement, he joked about how he had been told about the moment one realises you are no longer an US ambassador.

He said: ‘This happens when you jump into the back of your car and nothing happens.’ He also apologised to the small group diplomats if he had made any ‘diplomatic faux pas’.

He said: ‘I’m not a career diplomat, so I was pretty much learning on the job.  I did the best I could.’

Of the job itself, he said: ‘It was a wonderful experience. I couldn’t recommend this life enough – nice house, nice neighbourhood, chefs, cars, and it’s all free. I’ll miss it.’

He also hinted that he may now run for office in America.

Guests at the party included Gerry Ryan, Ryan Tubridy, ex-Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, and ex-Justice Minister, Malcolm McDowell.

Mr Foley, who has a 17-year-old son – Thomas Foley Jnr, who is dating Irish actress Sarah Bolger – became US Ambassador to Ireland in October 2006. He was appointed to the position by George Bush.

He had previously worked in Iraq, where he oversaw the development of most of the war-torn country’s 192 state-owned businesses.

While in office, Foley was embroiled in a minor controversy over the Government’s stance on genetically-modified crops.

In August last year, it was revealed that he had written to the government expressing his disappointment at its stated aim of turning Ireland into a GM-free zone.

An internal briefing paper prepared for Government junior ministers discloses that Mr Foley wrote to Minister for Health, Mary Harney, in July 2007 stating his opposition to the current abstention policy.

He said that the US government perceived the stance ‘as detrimental to biotechnology and a possible barrier to trade’

Anti co-location campaigner Christine O’Malley to fight on

AN anti co-location campaigner whose protests against the Beacon Medical Group have led to the firm laying staff off last night vowed to continue her fight.
Consultant geriatrician Dr Christine O’Malley, former head of the Irish Medical Organisation, has been involved in helping direct a series of legal challenges to Beacon’s planning applications to build their private hospitals in Limerick and Cork.
The troubled group’s failure to get permission to build is costing the company dear in legal and consultancy fees on top of the estimated €850m it has to raise to fund its plans.
On Friday, the group – which, in 2006, owed €142m to banks, and a further €3.4m other creditors, including the Revenue Commissioner – announced six redundancies and pay reviews for senior staff.
The decision comes just a few weeks after the Irish Mail on Sunday revealed that the Beacon Medical Group is in danger of being struck off for failing to file accounts on time.
If Dr O’Malley’s efforts – and those of her partner Tom O’Donoghue – had backfired, they would both have been faced with legal bills of more than €150,000.
O’Donoghue, for example, had appealed An Bord Pleanala’s decision to grant planning permission to Beacon’s Limerick planning application all the way to the High Court for a judicial review.
He won, now the application is back to square one and Dr O’Malley is vowing to take that application all the way to judicial review if needs be.
Last night, Dr O’Malley said: ‘I fully intend carrying on with my opposition to whatever planning permission they apply for.
‘If it costs the company ever more money, then so be it.’
She added: ‘Private hospitals do not treat really sick people. They deal with the walking wounded and worried well, and planned operations, not emergencies.
‘And few, if any, actually have doctors on call throughout the night on a regular basis.
‘Mary Harney at the Department of Health seems convinced that private hospitals will take up the slack and end up treating all comers.
‘That just isn’t going to happen.
‘Objecting to Beacon’s planning applications is just my way of throwing sands in the wheels of something I am very opposed to.’
The Beacon Medical Group group, faces being banned from operating if overdue accounts are not filed. They were due last May.
BMG is the most important player in the Government’s controversial co-location initiative and awarded HSE contracts to build private hospitals on State-owned land at Dublin’s Beaumont, Cork and Limerick.
Car dealer Michael Cullen is chief executive of the company, which is co-owned by property developer Paddy Shovlin.
A spokesman for the Beacon Medical Group said recently the group was in a sound financial position.
‘We are not struggling financially. We have a number of profitable companies,’ said Pauline Cullen who handles communications for the group.
‘We are a very small project team and we are doing an awful lot. We possibly do too much for the size that we are.’
Miss Cullen said the fact that a helicopter owned by BMG directors had been mortgaged to Bank of Scotland in April was not related to any company financing efforts. With bank debts of E150m registered in 2006, the firm
took out two new mortgages with Ulster Bank this February.
In a statement to the IMoS recently , a spokesman said the company had engaged in ‘productive discussions with a number of banks’ and was confident of raising the required finance for the co-location projects.
Last night, the online edition of the Companies Registration Office carried no record of up-to-date accounts received.

Drivers in a spin over €425,000.

JUNIOR ministers’ chauffeurs are on a collision course with their employers over pay – and the battle could mean ministers having to pay up to €25,500 in fines.The drivers – who are contracted to ferry junior ministers around – are claiming up to €425,000 in money they say they are owed for overtime, and bank holidays.

In addition, two former drivers are suing for more than €80,000 in unpaid expenses.

The group action is set for a Labour Court hearing while the expenses claim – against Health Minister Mary Harney – is set for the High Court.

Embarrassingly for the Government, the reason why the drivers are upset is not just problems with overtime and bank holidays but they are also furious about the amount of hours they have to work to keep their jobs.At the beck and call of their employers, two drivers assigned to each minister work seven days on, and seven days off.

A seven-day period can consist of up to double working week average of 48 hours-a-week as laid down by the Organisation of Working Time Act of 1997.

An employers’ failure to comply with the Act – which provides for breaks, annual leave and holiday time as well as work time – are liable for fines of up to €1,500 per offence.

The drivers’ planned action follows a similar dispute five years ago.

One former driver said: ‘The last drivers’ dispute took about five years to get sorted. The lads are not waiting around that long this time round.’