South Tipperary General Hospital is in line to become one of the first hospitals in Ireland to offer screening for colon cancer when the scheme is established next year.
The HSE announced this week that STGH is one of 15 'candidate' colonoscopy units selected to deliver the colon cancer screening under the National Cancer Screening Service, which also operates the BreastCheck and CervicalCheck screening schemes.
Colon cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in both Irish men and women.
In independent assess-ments, carried out by medical experts from the UK and Northern Ireland, STGH was rated in the top three hospitals examined.
There was widespread welcome for the HSE announcement this week and praise for the hospital staff.
Minister of State Martin Mansergh said the HSE decision "is a vote of confidence in South Tipperary General Hospital. "In order to participate in the programme each hospital will have to meet a series of targets as set by the National Cancer Screening Service over the next 12 to 18 months. I am confident that South Tipperary General will meet the quality standards set by the programme over the next 12 months and be able to demonstrate their readiness to incorporate screening colonoscopies into their current service.
"This is great news for Clonmel and for the patients of the South Tipperary General as endoscopy plays a major role not only in diagnosing colorectal cancer, which kills more than 900 people each year, but also in diagnosing and monitoring benign conditions including peptic ulcers and inflammatory bowel disease," he said.
Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes echoed the welcome, saying that this selection, which was based on an objective assessment, proves the efficiency of the hospital services.
"The independent, objective assessment by specialists from the UK and Northern Ireland showed that STGH has the busiest endoscopy unit in the HSE South area, and the hospital was ranked joint third nationally, including all 31 hospitals who applied to be included in this scheme, in terms of ability to deliver this programme.
"The selection is a recognition of the high standards set and met by staff in STGH, including the management of resources, equipment, nursing care, and the overall organisation and medical management in the unit.
"Objective assessments like these prove what I have been saying for a long time – STGH is an effective, efficient and invaluable health resource. Every effort must be made to retain all services, especially when schemes like this prove the worth of the services we have."
Labour Senator Phil Prendergast praised STGH and said it has been included in the new national cancer screening programme because of the excellence care given to patients there.
"This is a credit to Dr Paud O'Regan who is the lead clinician at STGH and in charge of the endoscopy service," she said, going on to stress: "it shows there is neither sense nor justice in downgrading a hospital that has provided such an excellent endoscopy service for the past 30 years."
Praise for the hospital staff also came from Cllr Seamus Healy.
"Dr Paud O'Regan and the hospital staff responsible for establishing and operating the unit are to be congratulated on what is a very important achievement for patients and indeed the hospital," he said, welcoming the HSE announcement.
Carole Broadbank, STGH General Manager, said - "A major effort was made by all staff to secure STGH's selection as a candidate site. I want to thank staff for their collective efforts in developing standards and procedures and presenting a good case for the hospital. We intend to build on this success to work to secure the colon cancer screening unit at South Tipperary General Hospital."
In Ireland, colorectal cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second most common fatal cancer among both men and women. One of the significant aspects of colorectal cancer screening is that it is a true cancer preventative health measure.
Men and women aged 60-69 will be offered a free home testing kit. Approximately five to six per cent of people screened will receive a result that will require an additional test. They will then be referred for a screening programme colonoscopy (an investigation of the lining of the bowel).
The NCSS, part of the HSE National Cancer Control Programme, is responsible for the development and implementation of Ireland's first national population-based colorectal cancer screening programme. The programme is planned to be available to men and women aged 60-69 in 2012.
STGH was chosen as one of 15 candidate colonoscopy units nationally. In order to be chosen as a candidate site STGH participated in visits by the NCSS in partnership with the representative professional bodies, the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the Joint Advisory Group on Gastroenterology (JAG) in the UK.