'I'd probably be dead' – cancer victim forced to go private after HSE delay

A mother of three who has just completed chemotherapy and radiation only received a HSE hospital appointment letter this week – 10 months after she decided to pay for private treatment.

Angela Dobbs Gordon (38) said she’d “probably be dead” if she hadn’t paid after she found a lump on her breast.

Ms Gordon, from Enniscorthy, Co Wexford discovered it on April 27, 2018 after returning from a trip with friends.

This week, she received a letter from University Hospital Waterford, dated February 19, 2019 asking if she “still needed to attend for your initial out patient consultation”, adding “we regret that it has not been possible to provide you with an appointment date as of yet”.

Ms Gordon (38) recently finished chemotherapy and said she “nearly got sick” when the letter from UHW arrived in the post. She said she probably could have died or the cancer would have spread to other areas if she relied on the public health system.

Speaking to the independent.ie, she described what unfolded the week she found the lump. “I immediately rang the local care doctor and was advised to go to her GP the next morning. Following an examination, he then sent a referral letter to University Hospital Waterford to arrange an appointment at the breastcare department.”

After days of hearing nothing, Ms Gordon phoned the hospital and was told the earliest appointment might be May 23, but “there was no guarantee”.

“That Friday, I completely lost the head and googled breast cancer. When I did, a number for a doctor in Dublin came up on the search, so I rang it. His wife answered and I explained everything that had happened and how I was losing sleep,” Ms Gordon said.

The doctor asked for a referral letter and arranged an appointment at the Hermitage Medical Clinic, a private hospital. The fee was €100, which was like “gold dust” to Ms Gordon at the time as she had just split from her partner.

“He told me I was in trouble and organised for me to come up for an ultrasound and mammogram, which cost €350. I had to borrow the money… I knew I had to try and fight this.”

By now, the tumour had grown to 5cm and Ms Gordon was informed she would need a biopsy, which could cost €1,200.

“I would have needed a loan to pay for it but I managed to get put back onto the public system and attended St James’s Hospital in Dublin,” she said. “I lost my hair, my eyebrows… and then to have gone through all this and to only get a letter now about a possible consultation, it’s so frustrating. If I hadn’t went to that doctor in Dublin, I’d be in a different predicament… I’d probably be dead.”

Ms Gordon shared the letter online and says she has been inundated with messages from others who received similar correspondence.

A HSE spokesperson said they were sorry to hear about Ms Gordon’s experience, but could not comment on individual cases.

“When a client or family makes personal information public, this does not relieve the HSE of its duty to preserve/uphold client confidentiality at all times,” they said.

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