Many foreign nationals returning to home countries for medical treatment due to Irish waiting lists, inquest told

Elena Shcherbakova (48) died in Cork shortly after having surgery to remove stomach tumour in her native Latvia

Delays getting appointments with specialists are leading many foreign nationals to return to their native countries to be treated for various illnesses and conditions, a leading oncologist has said.

Prof Seamus O’Reilly, clinical director of cancer services and consultant medical oncologist at Cork University Hospital, said he has found that foreign nationals who are diagnosed with cancer and other illnesses often opt to travel to be treated in a health system they have confidence in and where there is no language barrier.

“Unfortunately our long waiting lists and concerns expressed about prompt access do not help to instil confidence,” he told an inquest at Cork City Coroner’s Court on Thursday.

The hearing related to Elena Shcherbakova (48), a Latvian national who had been living at Mariners View, Derryminihan West, Castletownbere, who died at the Mercy University Hospital in Cork on December 17th last.

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Ms Shcherbakova’s son, Artjom (16), told the coroner that when his mother began to feel unwell last summer, she went to her GP in Castletownbere and was told she might be waiting for some time before seeing a specialist.

She decided to return to Latvia, where her daughter was living, and attended a hospital in Riga where she underwent a hysterectomy. However, doctors there discovered that she was suffering from stage 2 cancer in her stomach and she had surgery to remove a tumour.

Ms Shcherbakova returned to Cork on December 1st and met Prof O’Reilly 10 days later. She was due to meet him again in January to plan out a course of treatment involving chemotherapy and radiation therapy to reduce the risk of the cancer returning.

However, she took ill and collapsed at home on December 14th. She was rushed to the Mercy University Hospital and underwent a CAT scan, which showed she had an infection in an artery supplying blood to her gut.

Consultant Gavin O’Brien said Ms Shcherbakova’s superior mesenteric artery had become infected during the procedure in Riga and was too fragile to allow them to intervene surgically, so they tried to reduce the infection with antibiotics.

The hope was the antibiotics would allow Ms Shcherbakova’s artery to recover to a point where doctors could intervene surgically to ensure that blood would get to her gut, but it was an exceptionally rare and complex medical situation. She died on December 17th last.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margot Bolster carried out a postmortem on December 19th and concluded that Ms Shcherbakova died from hemorrhage due to a rupture of a mesenteric pseudoaneurysm or where a blood vessel wall is injured.

The issue was complicated due to sepsis at the point where the two structures in her intestine had been joined following a partial gastrectomy for stomach cancer associated with a swelling of the gallbladder, said Dr Bolster.

Coroner Philip Comyn said it was clear that Ms Shcherbakova had a complex medical condition and the infection to the artery was such that the tissue would not sustain a surgical intervention. He said doctors treated her as best they could in the circumstances.

Mr Comyn returned a narrative verdict of death due to a known complication of a medical procedure on a background of a complex medical history. He extended his sympathies to her husband Alexander and son Artjom on their loss.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times