[Sinn Fein]

1 March 2002

MacManus Calls for Public Commitment on Specialist Breast Unit

Former Mayor and Sinn Fein candidate for Sligo-Leitrim Alderman Seán MacManus has called on the Minister for Health Micheál Martin to make a public statement confirming that Sligo General Hospital will get a Specialist Breast Unit, as recommended by the National Cancer Forum Subgroup on Symptomatic Breast Services in March 2000.

The National Cancer Forum recommended the creation of 14 Specialist Breast Units, two of which would be in the North Western Health Board region, one at Letterkenny General, and one at Sligo General. The Sligo Unit would serve women in Sligo, Leitrim, west Cavan, and north Mayo.

Ald. MacManus welcomed recent DoHC approval for funding a cross-border initiative between Letterkenny General Hospital and Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry, which will allow a Specialist Breast Unit to serve women in Donegal. He said, ``What we need and are waiting on now is approval for the Sligo Unit. This will require cross-Health Board cooperation, and I understand that negotiations are currently underway. However, as the establishment of the Sligo Unit has been a matter of some controversy, up to now the Department of Health and Children has avoided making a public commitment on it for fear of stirring things up again - presumably because they do not want to alienate potential voters in the run-up to a general election.''

Urging Minister Martin to make a firm, unequivocal public commitment to approve and fund the Sligo Unit, MacManus said, ``Precisely because the issue of the Sligo Unit has become politicised, people in this region want and deserve reassurance that plans to site this service in Sligo have not been shelved by the government. Fianna Fail have no right to hold this Unit hostage to their electoral strategy. It is only ethical that the Minister clarify this situation in advance of the upcoming general election.''

MacManus continued, ``The need for comprehensive breast services in our region is well-established. Only a few weeks ago, the National Cancer Registry report confirmed that women on the western seaboard do not have access to adequate treatment at present. Specifically, women in our region are less likely to get radiotherapy for breast cancer than those in the eastern half of the country. Meanwhile, the government also continues to stall on the northwest rollout of the BreastCheck screening program, when it is both available and successful in the eastern region. Such regional inequalities in access to services must end.''

MacManus applauded the announcement that a North Western Health Board delegation will pursue improved access to radiotherapy for this region with the Minister, and acknowledged that important improvements in breast cancer services have taken place at Sligo General. However, MacManus emphasised, ``much more needs to be done before we can say that women in our region have equal access to breast services, and I will continue to work to secure the provision of these services.''

MacManus concluded, ``All who care about breast cancer should make their concerns known to their public representatives, the NWHB, and the DoHC. Your voices count. For my part, I call on the Minister to reassure us that the Sligo General Specialist Breast Unit will not be shelved, that the Unit's creation will not be subject to undue delay, and to indicate a target date for the Sligo Unit to open. I would also encourage the Health Boards concerned to expedite negotiations to make this possible, and to work together in the public interest. Let's all put women's health first.''

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