O’Brien steps down from ‘too political’ HSE West forum

A Mayo county councillor has stepped down from the HSE regional west forum in protest against the removal of breast cancer surgical and diagnostic services from Mayo General Hospital. Fine Gael Councillor Patsy O’Brien, the man who topped the poll in the Claremorris electoral area and received the highest number of votes of all candidates in Mayo in the June local elections, has not sought to be re-appointed to the health forum, having served on it since its inception. Cllr O’Brien told the Mayo Advertiser that the forum was “too political” and he expressed his disappointment in Mayo’s two Fianna Fáil TDs for not ensuring the services remained.

The Hollymount man said he didn’t think the people of Mayo would forgive Deputies Beverley Flynn and Dara Calleary for letting the services go and feared that this signalled the beginning of the end for Mayo General Hospital.

“I feel strongly about the removal of the services and resisted it vehemently,” said Cllr O’Brien. “I made my point strongly to Professor Tom Keane by letter,” he added.

Cllr O’Brien feels the forum has become too political with the Fianna Fáil members defending national policy. In November 2008 Fianna Fáil members on the forum prevented a vote on a motion of no confidence in Health Minister Mary Harney because they said standing orders were not being followed. In January they tried to pull another stunt to prevent a vote but the motion was eventually carried by 15 votes to 11. This is just one example of the party politics which Cllr O’Brien has denounced. He also feels that Sligo FF TD Jimmy Devins lost his ministerial post because of his support of the cancer services campaign at Sligo General Hospital.

Cllr O’Brien has also served on Mayo VEC and he said on this committee party politics was left at the door. “It’s high time politics was left outside the door of the HSE too,” he added.

Last May, during the height of the Mayo campaign to retain the services, he said he would resign the seat he held on the health forum if the campaign failed.

Five months later the services were removed, despite thousands of cancer survivors and other campaigners taking to the streets of Castlebar to protest against this decision.

While Cllr O’Brien didn’t immediately vacate his seat on the health forum, he vowed to do so once the services were removed. He then decided to wait on the forum until the end of his term but not seek another nomination to the committee.

No support from deputies

He told the Mayo Advertiser if he thought he could have given some service to patients in Mayo he would have remained on the forum but he said with no support from the Mayo Government deputies he didn’t see the point. “Castlebar had the highest recovery rate in breast cancer in Europe. But Mary Harney is one of the worst ministers in this country. She has nothing to show for her term in office. The health system is falling asunder,” he added.

The issue of parking remains a thorny one at UHG, according to Cllr O’Brien. “This is the first issue that should have been addressed. They have put the cart before the horse,” he added. “The whole thing is deplorable and despicable.”

The campaign for the retention of breast cancer services at Mayo General began in October 2007 when Mary McGreal and six other cancer survivors, along with family, friends and supporters, took to the streets of Castlebar to rally against the decision of the National Cancer Strategy.

Subsequently a vote of no confidence was passed against Minister Harney at a HSE Regional Health Forum West meeting in January 2008.

In February 2008 CEO of the HSE Professor Brendan Drumm confirmed that cancer surgical services would be withdrawn from Mayo and transferred to Galway. But he added that chemotherapy would remain in Mayo and hopefully would be extended to primary care centres throughout the county. He made his comments during a visit to St Finnaun’s Primary Care Centre in Achill Sound.

In March 2008 the Mayo General Hospital Manager Mr Tony Canavan issued a statement saying the hospital were planing towards the managed transfer of breast cancer services to Galway.

A few weeks later Health Minister Harney was booed and jeered when she officially opened the BreastCheck facility at Mayo General Hospital. Minister Harney at that stage was working from the premise that there would be 30 new breast cancer cases diagnosed in Mayo every year. It seemed her figures were underestimated and the correct figure was 80 new cases. This was pointed out to her by Mary McGreal and her co-survivors.

Also in May 2008 Cllr O’Brien said it was his intention to resign from the health forum of the Mayo services were removed. Attending a meeting of the health forum west Professor Tom Keane, director of the National Cancer Strategy, confirmed again that the services would move to a two-bed Castlebar clinic at the cancer centre in Galway.

Mayo’s surgical and diagnostic breast cancer services were transferred to Galway in September 2008.

Lost Sligo battle

Cancer service campaigners in Sligo have also lost their battle to retain breast cancer services at Sligo General Hospital. This comes some 10 months after services were transferred from Mayo General Hospital to the cancer centre at University Hospital Galway.

A letter to Sligo GPs, who were not co-operating with cancer chief Professor Keane, indicated that the services would be transferred from Sligo on August 6.

This letter came just 72 hours after the HSE regional forum meeting at Merlin Park in Galway at which Independent Sligo Councillor Declan Bree was told there was no date for the axing and transferral of the Sligo breast cancer services. However, just four days later that date had been set.

A public meeting was held in Sligo on Wednesday night to discuss this latest development in the Government’s plans to base all cancer services at eight cancer centres. Former Minister of State Jimmy Devins has condemned the decision to take the service from Sligo


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