Questions Raised Over Plans For Breast Assessment & Stroke Services

Plans to reconfigure breast and stroke assessment services in Northern Ireland have been criticised, with calls for an extended and more transparent consultation process to allow for clear scrutiny of the changes.

Under the new plans, breast assessment centres at Altnagelvin, Antrim and the Ulster hospitals would remain open but those at Belfast City Hospital and Craigavon would close. Stroke services at Daisyhill in Newry may also close as part of the reconfiguration.

Alliance Party Health Spokesperson Paula Bradshaw expressed doubt over whether the current consultation is operating with sufficient robustness and transparency. She commented: "We are unclear about how decisions have been made, and it seems bizarre consultations were launched just as the civil service entered a period of self-determined 'purdah', unable to meet elected representatives to enable at least some democratic scrutiny of the decision-making process."

The main assessment centre for breast cancer should remain at Belfast City Hospital, the south Belfast MLA added, describing the move to the Ulster Hospital as "bizarre" when so many related services and all the specialist expertise exist at the Belfast City Hospital site. "With the Breast Reconstruction Centre, the Cancer Research and Cell Biology Centre and all the specialist surgeons at the City, why would assessment suddenly move elsewhere? This runs plainly contrary to the Bengoa principles."
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Meanwhile, SDLP MLA Sinead Bradley has called on the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, to extend the consultation period into breast assessments at the Craigavon Clinic and stroke services at Daisyhill hospital due to the interference of purdah, the period immediately before elections when restrictions on communications activity are in place.

"It was a grave error by the Department to announce these critical consultations just one day before purdah was triggered," the MLA for south Down commented.  

"This miscalculation frustratingly means that elected representatives are unable to access information from Department officials, information which will be vital in forming our consultation response.

"Therefore, we are calling on the Department to extend this consultation period to ensure all political parties and stakeholders can provide a fulsome and balanced response."

Assessing the proposals, Roisin Foster, Chief Executive of Cancer Focus Northern Ireland expressed confusion at some of the recommendations. She said: "While we welcome the review, we are taking time to consider the full implications of the proposals and to seek the views of patients and health professionals.

"We have some concerns that breast cancer assessment is being looked at in isolation from other breast cancer services, and we are puzzled by the direction some of the recommendations are moving in. Our over-arching concern is that we develop a more effective service that will result in better diagnoses and treatments that give the best possible outcome for patients."


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