Prostate Cancer UK is urging health authorities to improve access to prostatectomy treatment for men in Northern Ireland, after reports of delays and inadequate support for patients being flown to England for surgery.
We’re calling for an urgent review of prostatectomy provision in Northern Ireland, following the BBC's revelations that all men in the country wanting surgery to remove their cancerous prostates are sent hundreds of miles away to hospitals in England for the operation.
Due to growing numbers of men opting for robot-assisted surgery – which no hospital in Northern Ireland is equipped to do – and demand for keyhole or open surgery now too low to safely offer in local hospitals, men wanting treatment using the Da Vinci Robot method have to apply for approval to go to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
As well as the frustration of delays, waiting for health authority consent and scheduling referrals, the long-distance arrangement also means uncomfortable travel and accommodation in hotels far from home for men after having surgery.
“My wife and I arrived in the afternoon, the night before the surgery, and were staying in the middle of nowhere with many hours to kill,” says Mervyn Bryans (photographed above), who had to wait six weeks for the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board to confirm funding for his operation, then fly over to Addenbrooke’s Hospital for an initial assessment, before finally having surgery in May.
“I headed back to the hotel [after surgery] with my catheter in. I had to walk up three flights of stairs, which was painful and exhausting. I didn’t get a good night’s sleep at all.”
Mervyn had to fly home with his catheter still in, which he described as “a very uncomfortable experience”, and had to buy looser-fitting clothes to ease the discomfort.
“All in all, it wasn’t at all ideal to have to travel so far for such a major operation,” he says. “It could have been easier if done closer to home, or just been more thought through. If I had to do it again, I’m just not sure I would.”
Now, we’re calling for health authorities in Northern Ireland and England to urgently review how prostatectomies are being handled for men in Northern Ireland.
“We believe all men diagnosed with prostate cancer should have access to the best treatment and support,” says Catherine Winsor, Head of Improving Care at Prostate Cancer UK. “In order to have the best experience and outcomes, men should ideally also be able to have treatment as close to their home as possible.
“We’re concerned that the current process for doing this in Northern Ireland is causing delays to treatment of some men, and also leaving some without the full support they need. This is unacceptable.
“We call on the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board to come together with the Department of Health to urgently review access arrangements to all types of prostate cancer surgery and to make sure they develop a long-term sustainable plan for providing these services.”
In a statement today, the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board said: “The arrangement whereby men are referred to Great Britain for their surgery has been in place for a number of years.
“This arrangement became necessary when, as a consequence of staffing changes in the specialist urology team, Belfast Trust was no longer able to sustain a radical prostatectomy service.
“The Board is currently in discussion with the Belfast Trust to explore the potential options in regard to providing radical prostatectomy in Northern Ireland, consistent with national guidance and best practice.”
A decision by the Board is expected in the autumn.
Do you live in Northern Ireland and have a similar experience of travelling to England for prostate cancer surgery? We want to hear from you. Email our Campaigns team at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us your story.