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Cancer chief hints HSE job is in his sights

The country's top cancer tsar has given the strongest indication yet that he may replace Brendan Drumm as head of the HSE.

Professor Tom Keane has refused to rule out taking up the challenging post, amid widespread speculation that he is being lined up for the job.

Prof Keane said yesterday that he would not be opposed to holding talks with the relevant people about the upcoming vacancy.

Prof Brendan Drumm -- who has been heavily criticised during his tenure -- has already confirmed that he will step down in the summer, following five years at the helm of the crisis-stricken health service.

His job was advertised before Christmas, with interested parties given until last Friday to put their name in contention.

However, speaking on RTE's News at One, Prof Keane noted that while applications were being considered, headhunting was also underway.

And, for the first time, he confirmed that has had "discussions" about the job.

Prof Keane is currently director of the National Cancer Control Programme.

He said that while no decisions had been reached on his future, he has a "very strong interest in what happens here".

He took up his position with the Irish health service in 2007, having previously chaired and been head of the radiation oncology unit at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

Health Minister Mary Harney recruited him on a two-year secondment and Prof Keane is due to return to Canada later this year.

Speaking yesterday, he said that he had achieved most of his aims during the two-year term.

And he defended the health service, saying that although it comes in for much criticism the service given to patients was actually good, once they got inside the system.

"If it came about that I was in a position to contribute to that I would still consider it," he said.

He continued by noting that while misdiagnoses in breast cancers have been reduced to an absolute minimum, they can never be eradicated.

"By the very nature of the subjective nature of the diagnostic process, there will always be some cases [of misdiagnoses]," he said.

kdoyle@herald.ie