Law firm highlights ‘delay’ in cancer diagnosis recall but UHL points to ‘skewed data’

Law firm highlights ‘delay’ in cancer diagnosis recall but UHL points to ‘skewed data’

Rachael O’Shaughnessy, senior associate solicitor in Homs Assist litigation department

A REPORT and study found the recall of patients to the symptomatic breast clinic at UHL following detection of abnormal mammograms did not meet the recommended standard of two weeks, according to a law firm.

Citing the Irish Medical Journal, Holmes O’Malley Sexton (HOMS) Assist wish to highlight it particularly in the context of the “impact that delayed diagnosis can have on patients”.

Rachael O’Shaughnessy, senior associate solicitor in Homs Assist litigation department, said breast cancer is a common cancer in Ireland.

“More than 3,600 women and 37 men are diagnosed with it each year in Ireland. It is more common in women over 50,” said Ms O’Shaughnessy.

“Your family GP will talk to you about symptoms and will examine your breast area. Your GP will refer you to a breast clinic if they think you need more tests. This is of little use if abnormal results are not communicated to you in a timely manner,” she continued.

Ms O’Shaughnessy said it is “very concerning to learn that the recall time to the University Hospital Limerick symptomatic breast unit following abnormal mammography is more than the recommended two weeks”.

“A delay in diagnosis of cancer, particularly if the cancer is aggressive, can have devastating consequences. Every day and week can make the difference. We at HOMS Assist unfortunately see a lot of delayed diagnosis cases and are here to advise if you, or your family member believes that there has been a delay in diagnosis of your condition," said Ms O’Shaughnessy.

They also point to the effect of Covid on “diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients as a result of the pandemic”.

In response, a spokesperson for the UL Hospitals Group said the symptomatic breast unit in Limerick is one of the eight National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) designated symptomatic breast units in Ireland.

“It operates under the governance of the NCCP, and reports monthly data in relation to service delivery, including access and time to treatment.

“The publication referenced refers to a quality improvement initiative undertaken by the unit, to improve service to patients by reviewing timelines through a benign or cancer diagnosis.”

The UL Hospitals Group spokesperson said “the standard chosen is not a standard applied to a symptomatic unit recall outpatients department (OPD) visit, but a standard chosen so we could reference a timeline for comparable performance to breast screening following an abnormal mammogram”.

“Recall OPD appointment is the appointment offered to a patient in a symptomatic breast service where results are given and treatment is planned. The publication states this and explains this may not be a comparable standard in a symptomatic breast unit.

“The average timeline of patients in this study were seen within 17 days, in comparison to the 14 days standard selected for comparison, representing a difference of three days.

“There are many factors that impact on an OPD recall including a need for further diagnostic tests, interim phone communications from the unit updating patients, Bank Holidays affecting clinic dates etc. These processes may skew data, leading to misinterpretation. Both benign and cancer diagnosis are included in this dataset,” said the UL Hospitals Group spokesperson.

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