There has been a widespread welcoming of the news that Oncology services are returning to Letterkenny, but many questions are being raised.

It has been confirmed that normal medical oncology services have resumed at Letterkenny University Hospital. 

Donegal cancer patients were having to travel to Galway in the past month due to the suspension of new chemotherapy referrals at the hospital. A total of 51 patients had to make the 250km journey to get treatment in recent weeks.

It was confirmed yesterday that temporary cover has returned to LUH since Monday to resume the oncology services to normal. The department is now accepting new chemotherapy referrals, which was welcomed by Donegal TDs Joe McHugh and Pearse Doherty.

Cancer patients who have been travelling four, five and sometimes six hours to Galway will be able to have treatment in Letterkenny in the coming weeks.

Minister Joe McHugh

Donegal TD and Minister of State Joe McHugh said: “Patients currently undergoing Medical Oncology treatment will be returned to LUH over the next number of weeks for their continued treatment on a phased basis.

“I welcome this news. I know the hospital staff are continuing to work extremely hard on behalf of their patients throughout the hospital. This is particularly good news for all those patients who had to travel outside Donegal in recent weeks for treatment.”

Letterkenny University Hospital General Manager, Mr Seán Murphy, on the announcement of the replacement locum consultant medical oncologist, explained the reason why the service was suspended in January.

Mr Murphy stated, “Letterkenny University Hospital provides medical oncology services to patients and there are two Consultant Medical Oncologist Posts at the Hospital. One of these posts had been filled by a locum, pending the appointment of a permanent Medical Oncologist. This locum recently resigned. In this context it is not clinically appropriate to start new patients on chemotherapy regimes at LUH when we do not have the consultant medical cover to ensure it can be provided without interruption to the regime.”

Mr Murphy stated that the replacement locum was due to take up the post on March 6, but Minister Joe McHugh yesterday revealed that the locum was already working this week.

Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Deputy Pearse Doherty raised concerns over the provision of services by the locum cover between now and March 6th. 

Deputy Doherty said: “I understand that in spite of the impression which has been given that medical cover has been secured at the hospital for the intervening weeks between now and when the replacement locum is scheduled to start, this cover will not be continual for the duration mentioned, because the person providing this temporary cover has only been scheduled to work for a very limited number of days for some of the weeks in question.

“This means that patient cover will not be continuous, and severe service disruption will continue to be experienced by patients.”

Deputy Doherty plans to raise a number of questions to the HSE regarding the initial suspension of services in Letterkenny. He is also seeking a date for the affected 51 patients to have their treatments returned to Donegal.

“I have already written to the HSE seeking details through Freedom of Information of when the resignation of the Locum Consultant was formally communicated to hospital authorities, as answers are needed in relation to the amount of prior notice which the authorities had before this post became vacant, which led to the service’s suspension.

“Last month I gave a commitment to the countless families from across Donegal who came to me following the removal of this service that I would fight to get them the answers which they deserve as to why their loved ones were denied access to cancer treatment locally, and I remain resolute that I will continue to get to the truth to find out why this situation was allowed to happen in the first place,” Deputy Doherty said.