UHL Breast Unit – Ms. Shona Tormey, Consultant Breast Surgeon, Prof. Collete Cowan, CEO UL Hospitals Group, Prof. Niall O’Higgins, Chairman UL Hospitals Board, Mr. Noel Earlie, JP Mc Manus Invitational Pro Am representative. Picture by Cian Reinhardt/ilovelimerick
A new era for breast cancer patients in the Mid-West has been marked with the official launch of the €3m UHL Breast Unit at the Leben Building, University Hospital Limerick.
The UHL Breast Unit, which occupies the fourth floor of the Leben Building, means that for the first time the women of the MidWest have a single centre for all breast outpatient needs.
The development was made possible through the generous support of the MidWestern Hospitals Development Trust and the JP McManus Invitational ProAm; the Health Service Executive and the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP). And the UHL Breast Unit has benefited enormously through the donations of its patients, their families and friends who have held fundraising events in every corner of the region.
Prof Niall O’Higgins, Chairman, UL Hospitals Group and one of the country’s leading breast specialists, commented: “Screening for breast cancer, through the BreastCheck programme, has been an undoubted success since it was established in 2000. The Irish programme is admired everywhere.Reform in the organisation of symptomatic services has been complex and difficult, but has led to eight highly specialised and effective centres being established in the state. During the past 10 years the service has been transformed from an incoherent loose arrangement to a system of high-quality care with equality of access and scrupulous accountability. The centre in Limerick is among the best and deserves the recognition due to the quality of care given and the addition of a superb UHL Breast Unit that we see here today must surely be a source of pleasure and pride to all who have striven and struggled to establish it.”
“It was back in 2007 that UHL was designated as one of eight centres nationally for symptomatic breast services,” said Colette Cowan, CEO, UL Hospitals Group.
“And in all of that time, the ambition – very much driven by the patients – was to provide for these women the unit they deserved. With the number of new and return attendances having more than doubled over the last decade – from 3,073 in 2005 to 6,726 last year – the increase in activity alone was a compelling reason to find a new home for the breast unit. Perhaps more important were the environmental challenges posed by an old hospital building and which meant breast services were dispersed around the hospital with unwell or worried women trekking over and back between our breast unit and radiology department.”
“This building allows for greater privacy and comfort; with the consultations, diagnostic investigations, prosthetic fitting rooms and minor surgical procedures all under one roof in a bright and welcoming that is truly patient-centred. It has been a long road for patients and staff but it is a proud moment for UL Hospitals and our charitable partners to be able to say that we have achieved our ambition,” Ms Cowan added.
According to Helen Leo, a breast cancer survivor from Nenagh, County Tipperary, the Breast Unit women attend in 2016 is a far cry from the environment in which she received her diagnosis in 2010.
“Women who like me went through the old breast unit will know of its shortcomings. You had to wait for your consultation, even for an initial diagnosis, in a claustrophobic space under a stairway which was very unwelcoming and almost cruel. The staff have always been great and I am delighted for people like the three specialist breast nurses – Mags Sullivan, Laura O’Donoghue and Michelle Walsh – that they are moving into a new building as well, which is really fantastic. My only regret is that I don’t get to use it myself because I have fully recovered and, as (Consultant Breast Surgeon) Anne Merrigan puts it, I have graduated from the Breast Unit.”
In 2015, there were 206 new breast cancers diagnosed in the Breast Unit at UHL, the women ranging in age from 23 to 96 years with a median age of 68.6. Activity continues to increase annually.
According to Shona Tormey, Consultant Breast Surgeon,: “The Breast Unit in UHL, as one of the eight NCCP centres, offers all aspects of breast and breast cancer care including triple assessment, breast reconstruction and Oncoplastic surgery, and dedicated family history clinics. Breast Cancer in UHL includes a dedicated Breast Medical Oncology Unit and Radiotherapy delivered in the UHL Medical Oncology Unit and the Mater Private Radiotherapy on site.”
The new development includes consultation rooms, a multidisciplinary team conference room, a prosthesis fitting room, a family room, administrative offices and a quiet room where women can retire for cancer consultations and information.
And the unit boasts cutting-edge diagnostics, with two ultrasound and two mammography suites, including the first use in a public hospital in Ireland of tomosynthesis, also known as 3D mammography.
The development would not have been possible without the support of the Mid-Western Hospitals Development Trust, whose chairman Jim Canny commented: “The Board of the Mid-Western Hospitals Development Trust are delighted that we have finally reached this point in time and the opening of this beautiful state-of-the-art facility”.
“We are delighted to join the Symptomatic Breast Service in marking the move to this new purpose-built facility. The new unit provides facilities for the breast patients of the Mid-West region and will offer a first-class service for patients at a crucial stage in their lives. This new facility is replacing an overcrowded prefab unit that had patients sit under the stairs in a cramped space. The great advantage of this facility is that it will mean that the service can function as an integrated unit; reduce the need for patients to travel from one area of the hospital to another for consultations and procedures; and to generally make life easier for patients and all concerned,” Mr Canny added.
The Breast Unit has also been fortunate to have tremendous support from the patients themselves. The service has benefitted from fundraising all over Clare, Limerick and Tipperary and the proceeds of the Breast Patients Donations Fund have gone in to decorating and furnishing the breast fitting room, reception area and the quiet room in the new unit. Fundraising has also purchased a new pathology specimen x-ray machine.
The generosity of the women of the MidWest is also helping breast cancer research in the region, through providing tissue samples to the breast biobank set up in UHL in 2013 and funding a postdoctoral research position, also at UHL.
For more information about the Leben building in UHL you’ll find it in one of our previous stories here.
For more news from I Love Limerick of the University Hospital Limerick click here.
Pictures by Cian Reinhardt/ilovelimerick