Battle on to save breast cancer services at Craigavon Hospital

Some of those who attended a meeting opposed to changes to breast cancer services at Craigavon Area Hospital.
Some of those who attended a meeting opposed to changes to breast cancer services at Craigavon Area Hospital.

A local breast cancer charity is leading the charge in opposition to changes in screening services at Craigavon Area Hospital.

The Department of Health has published proposals which could see the service withdrawn from Craigavon Area Hospital.

The proposals – involving services being consolidated on three hospital sites – are now out for public consultation.

However, local charity Knitted Knockers has already voiced their dismay at the plans and are calling on the public to oppose the move.

An online petition is being organised to bring the matter to Parliament for debate, Lord Mayor Julie Flaherty has tabled a notice of motion to bring the issue before Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council and the charity is appealing to the public to respond to the consultation.

A meeting of those opposed to the plans was held at Brownlow House in Lurgan - where Knitted Knockers are based - on Monday with a good turnout told the proposal could leave the southern area bereft of breast cancer screening services which could have dire consequences.

Putting it in stark context local Knitted Knockers founder Joanne Harris said: “This means the complete removal of the breast diagnostic centre from Craigavon Area Hospital

“The new proposals mean the complete removal of all out-patient breast services requiring a breast diagnosis both benign and malignant (cancer).

“Instead all patients must travel to one of these proposed Breast Centres: Altnagelvin, Antrim Area Hospital or the Ulster Hospital.”

She added: “If you have any breast problem and your GP sends you to a Breast Clinic - you will no longer be able to attend Craigavon. If you attend Breast Screening and you are recalled for further tests - you will no longer be able to attend Craigavon

“If you are a cancer patient and have a mammogram every year and require further tests - you will no longer be able to attend Craigavon

“If you are a family history patient and have a mammogram every year and require further tests - you will no longer be able to attend Craigavon.”

She went on: “Since January 2018 your Breast Clinic in Craigavon has been and continues to achieve the government target of two weeks from the date your GP sees you and requests an urgent appointment.”

A surgeon from the unit at Craigavon, Dr Ellen Mathers addressed the meeting in a personal capacity.

She pointed out there are currently five breast units in the province - at Craigavon, Altnagelvin, Antrim, Belfast City and Ulster hospitals.

She said: “Craigavon saw the second highest number of patients.”

Dr Mathers added: “I strongly disagree with the locations chosen, why were the other locations ignored, Questions have to asked over their methodology.”

In terms of statistics Craigavon Breast Clinic saw 4,847 patients last year (3,687 in 2017 and 4,607 in 2016) the number of breast cancers diagnosed and treated so far this year has been 103 (311 last year). Dr Mathers said the clinic was on track for 400 diagnoses for this year.

She said a move could mean a drop in the number of people coming for screening and added: “As a service user I think that it is a disgrace, public support is the only way to keep our unit open.”

The meeting was also addressed by local MLAs Doug Beattie, Dolores Kelly and Carla Lockhart (Councillor Catherine Nelson of Sinn Fein was also present along with councillors and candidates from all the main parties).

Mr Beattie said there was a groundswell of opposition to the move adding: “It doesn’t make sense to leave the southern area completely bereft. All in this area will be driven out from getting help.”

Mrs Kelly said breast cancer did not just affect women it also affected men: “I don’t think there is a family that has not been touched by cancer. You have my wholehearted support and that of my party.”

Ms Lockhart said: “Craigavon is outperforming other units. It is very traumatic to think in this southern area we will be bereft of this service.”

The final word was left to one of the 311 women diagnosed last year, who said of the unit: “You were my angels, you carried me the whole way through.

“You saved my life. I love and appreciate you so much. You cannot go.”

Knitted Knockers of NI is part of worldwide organisation providing free 100% cotton breast prosthetics to breast cancer survivors, along with post surgery kit cushion, drain bag and massage soap bar for breast cancer survivors all over Northern Ireland.

For more details email Knittedknockersofni@gmail.com, or call 07562 574 449.