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The National Cancer Strategy was launched by Simon Harris when he was Health Minister in 2017. Shutterstock
National Cancer Strategy

Leading cancer doctors write open letter to Taoiseach warning about Ireland's cancer services

The intervention has been welcomed by the Irish Cancer Society, saying it ‘must serve as a wake-up call’ to the government.

LEADING CANCER CLINCICIANS have warned that it is “simply not possible” to provide optimal care to patients in current working conditions.

In an open letter to Taoiseach Simon Harris, 20 of the country’s leading cancer doctors and researchers warned of cancer surgery delays and staffing shortages nationwide.

The stark letter sets out a series of targets that have not been met, saying this was due to the National Cancer Strategy only receiving dedicated funding in two out of seven Budgets since its launch by Harris when he was Health Minister in 2017.

The intervention has been welcomed by the Irish Cancer Society, which it said “must serve as a wake-up call” to the incoming Taoiseach and the government.

Without improved multi-annual funding for the National Cancer Strategy, Power believes that “not only are Ireland’s cancer outcomes unlikely to improve but we are at serious risk of going backwards”.

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In their letter to Simon Harris, which was also sent to his fellow coalition leaders Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, along with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, the clinicians outline that planned expansions to screening has not taken place.

“Target waiting times for cancer tests are not being met. Cancer surgeries are frequently delayed due to shortages in staffing, beds, and theatre space,” the letter continued.

“Investment in infrastructure has been lacking, despite increasing infection control issues and rising cancer incidence.”

Radiotherapy services are also operating “significantly below capacity” according to the medical experts.

This has meant that Ireland is “falling far short of the already modest target” of 6% of cancer patients participating in clinical trials.

The clinicians claimed that Ireland is also “one of the slowest countries in Western Europe” to make new medicines available to public patients, which is combined with it having the third highest cancer mortality in the region according to most recent data from 2019.

“Given the impact of COVID-19 on Ireland’s cancer services and the Government’s failure to provide any new recurrent development funding for the National Cancer Strategy in 2023 or 2024, we have no reason to believe the situation has improved,” they said.

Rather, given the pressure our services are currently under, Ireland’s cancer outcomes are at risk of going backwards.

They urge Harris and the government to reverse the decision to provide no new recurrent funding to the National Cancer Control Programme in 2024 and to commit to enough ringfenced multiannual funding to enable “full delivery” of the National Cancer Strategy.

“People with cancer in Ireland deserve the best possible chance of surviving the disease and enjoying a good quality of life afterwards,” they concluded.

“This will only be achieved through properly resourced cancer services, with protected pathways that are not disrupted by other pressures on the health service.”

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