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Terminally ill mum says returning to Ireland from Australia ‘shortened my life’

A young mother who was diagnosed with skin cancer feels she has shortened her life by returning home to Ireland due to a cyber attack on the healthcare system in the country.

Meabh Feerick, 25, had been living in Australia for the past four and a half years when she was diagnosed with an aggressive genetic melanoma in 2020.

She was given “top tier” treatment while in Australia but her care back in Ireland has been met with numerous difficulties and delays in getting the treatment she needs.

Maebh, from County Mayo, brought all her cancer treatment scans on a USB stick but doctors here were unable to access the device due to the impact of the cyberattack on HSE, Ireland's health service, systems for months.

Despite having all the data, this meant her scans were “useless” as they could not assess her records brought from Australia and act quickly to see how the cancer was worsening.

In the end, she was required to have new scans done at Mayo University Hospital (MUH) before being transferred to the larger Galway University Hospital (GUH) but doctors were still unable to share the new scans between facilities.

“I feel I have shortened my life along with many others,” Meabh told the Daily Star.

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“There is increased stress and anxiety in this system. There is more for me to manage and worry about. Stress feeds my cancer and everybody else's for that matter. It is not good enough.”

She added: “When scans were done they were not able to share scans between hospitals in Galway and Mayo, which is crazy. I am seeing the same team out of both facilities and files cannot be shared. The HSE has responded saying that is false and back up and running since the attack but I am proof that is not the truth.

“I'm not saying scans change my prognosis however, it changes the way we respond to give me more comfort and also sometimes even more time left in my time here with family.”

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Meabh underwent four surgeries in December last year, which included two surgeries on the scalp, a left lymph node dissection and also a right hip replacement.

She went through radiation therapy and also immuno-therapy but the results were not as they had hoped for by April 2021 so she began BRAF inhibitors, an oral chemotherapy treatment.

After treatment was exhausted in Australia, she was given three to five months to live and was advised to return home to be with family while she still could.

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Maebh, who is mother to three-year-old Noah, said: “My reaction initially was. in hindsight, much more in touch I suppose with what was really going on. As things began to unravel I guess there was a response as a 25-year-old mother of somewhat denial as you don't want to believe this is really what is happening.

“I knew from the initial biopsy results as I sensed a certain panic and urgency within the doctors and what would become my oncology team there in Australia.”

Meabh is now trying to enjoy the time she has left with her son Noah and family but the continued battle with her care has caused more stress.

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She has been supported by the amazing hospital staff, who she says can’t do enough for her but the system itself is the problem.

Meabh said: “My thoughts on treatment received in Ireland are that staff and everyone involved is fantastic. They are fatigued, stressed and under staffed and manage to come with a smile to each and every patient.

“However, the hospital is not so efficient. There are delays, wait times and other things to name a few which is not good enough. Only last night I found myself on a corridor on a trolley from 8pm until 5am surrounded by potential risks to me, a vulnerable person.

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“We need a cancer care facility in the West and it needs to be done soon. People are finding out much later than they should that they have cancer and it again is not good enough.”

Maebh is aware that treatment options are limited for her but hopes radiation therapy can help her pain management so she can enjoy her remaining time for as long as possible.

The Saolta University Health Care Group, which runs both Mayo University Hospital and Galway University Hospital, said they cannot comment on individual cases and said if families have concerns they can contact the hospital directly.

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Regarding the scans, the group said "linkages are in place across the Saolta University Healthcare Group for the viewing of scans and images" and following the ransomware attack earlier in the year, over "95% of all their servers and devices" have been restored across the HSE.

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