Up to 12 women suffered delayed diagnosis of their cancers at Letterkenny University Hospital, it has been claimed, as a review of its gynaecological services gets underway.

The Irish Times today reports that the review was ordered by the HSE last autumn after a number of cases of alleged missed cancers at the unit were revealed.

Now the whistleblower who sparked the investigation says she knows of at least 10 further cases.

Letterkenny University Hospital

Donegal-born doctor Margaret MacMahon, whose late sister Carol’s endometrial cancer was missed for two years, says she has been contacted by a number of families who are alleging sub-standard gynaecological care at the hospital.

Dr MacMahon has called on the review to ensure all these cases are examined, while some of the families involved have written to the review team seeking formal investigations.

“This is about recurrent major incidents, including totally avoidable deaths, in a peripheral unit that has not been managed or monitored appropriately,” Dr MacMahon says.

A geriatrician based in Bristol, Dr MacMahon claims she told the hospital and the Saolta hospital group (of which Letterkenny is a member) when seeking information about her sister’s death that a problem existed, “but I was obstructed at every point.”

Saolta admitted in a report on Carol MacMahon’s death there was a delay in diagnosing her endometrial cancer due to “a series of failings”.

Dissatisfied with the response of the hospital and the hospital group to her sister’s death, Dr MacMahon took her concerns to Minister for Health Simon Harris and HSE management, which ultimately ordered an independent review.

After the details of her sister’s case became public last year, a second Donegal family came forward to say their mother’s cancer had been missed, after which the HSE agreed to set up the review.

Edel Peoples, from Convoy, said her mother, Philomena, was diagnosed with stage four cancer 18 months after first presenting to the hospital.

Saolta told The Irish Times in December the “clinical service review” may make recommendations to improve the quality and safety of gynaecological services in the hospital.

The members of the review team are consultant obstetrician John Price, retired nursing director Ann Kelly and HSE official Gareth Clifford.

Questions about the current status of the review, and in relation to the group of missed cancers alleged by Dr MacMahon and individual families, had not been responded to by Monday evening. It is not the practice of the HSE to comment on individual patient cases.

Dr MacMahon says the HSE needs to convene an open forum “as a gesture of goodwill” when the review is complete and the recommendations are known. “Families and patients affected by this need to be invited. Apologies will need to be made. Keeping the results behind closed doors is not going to work and will backfire.”