Health

Chemotherapy for cancer patients cancelled due to bank holidays

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Chemotherapy sessions for patients at Northern Ireland's main cancer centre are being cancelled because it does not operate on bank holidays.

Approximately 780 patients at the Belfast Cancer Centre had treatments in April and May cancelled.

Some patients had their treatment rescheduled, but others did not.

The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said it tried to rearrange appointments for some patients but it was not always possible.

The trust, which runs the centre at Belfast City Hospital, prioritises rescheduling patients who have cancer which has not spread (primary cancer).

This means some patients with cancer which has spread (secondary cancer) do not have their cancelled appointments rescheduled and miss them altogether.

The trust said it was aware of the "anxiety and inequity" felt by patients affected by bank holiday closures.

Chemotherapy for 304 patients will be interrupted in July and August.

This is an issue that affects all chemotherapy patients across Northern Ireland. For a system to be operating at full capacity, it also requires staff working in laboratories and pharmacies.

All these members of staff are contractually given leave on bank holidays.

Sinead Joyce, 48, who has terminal cancer, fears she was not given a fair chance as a "patient hit with bank holidays".

The mother of two, from Belfast, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.

She had several cycles of chemotherapy at the centre, which is attended by approximately 400 chemotherapy patients from across Northern Ireland every week.

'Pleaded with staff'

Patients offered chemotherapy are given a set day they will receive it.

Ms Joyce was allocated Mondays on a weekly basis, but this meant her sessions on bank holiday Mondays were cancelled.

She said she pleaded with staff to reschedule the cancelled sessions.

"I didn't want to miss out," she said.

"I was worried and imagining that the cells were growing and spreading and I was not getting my medicine into me.

"I don't know if it made a difference, but I do wonder."

Ms Joyce said she became particularly anxious about missing sessions during a chemotherapy trial starting in March, which offered her a final chance to extend her life.

The trial was for an initial 12-week period with the potential for it to be extended if it had a positive effect.

She was distraught when she realised she would miss three of the 12 treatments due to St Patrick's Day, Easter Monday and May Day.

Ms Joyce said the chemotherapy trial was eventually stopped when scans showed her tumours had grown.

"Every bank holiday I asked to be rescheduled, but was told no. Physically, they said there was nowhere they could put me.

"There was no pharmacy and there were no nurses – it was not possible.

"They said there was nothing to suggest that missing a treatment makes a difference."

Ms Joyce said she was shocked to realise patients whose cancer had spread, like her, were not given the same opportunity to reschedule treatment as people whose cancer was confined to where it first developed.

Her story was one of several brought to BBC News NI by patients distressed about disruption to their chemotherapy regime.

'Anxiety and inequity'

The Belfast Trust said it tried to reschedule appointments for some patients, but that this was not always possible due to what it described as "capacity".

It said it received four formal complaints about the issue in the past year, although it is understood more patients have complained informally.

A spokesperson said the trust tried to reschedule chemotherapy sessions for patients with cancer which had not spread (primary cancer) – where a cure was "potentially achievable" – in the same week as their missed session, or the following week.

It said this was because of "some clinical evidence" that supported delivering "the planned dose of chemotherapy on schedule".

It said rescheduling was based on capacity and therefore delays happened "across the spectrum of diseases and treatment intentions".

But the spokesperson added that patients whose cancer had Read More – Source