Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Sunday 4 June 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Shutterstock/Chompoo Suriyo
# covid disruption
Oncologist warns Covid disruption to diagnoses could increase cancer mortality for next 10 years
Professor Seamus O’Reilly spoke of the need to hire more oncologist consultants.

A CONSULTANT ONCOLOGIST has warned that delays in identifying and treating cancers due to the disruption caused by Covid might increase the mortality rate from the disease over the next decade.

Consultant medical oncologist Professor Seamus O’Reilly says pandemic has “enormous implications” for “time-dependent” cancer care.

He explained that the health service will struggle to cope with the backlog of patients without hiring additional oncologists and other medical specialists and that 20% of hospital consultant posts are not filled as needed. 

Professor O’Reilly added that an additional 73 consultant oncologists will be needed over the next seven years to meet the demand on services. He added that even before the pandemic, cancer diagnoses were increasing at a rate of approximately 5% a year. 

Speaking on behalf of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA), Professor O’Reilly of Cork University Hospital and the Mercy University Hospital in Cork was citing recent statistics from the National Cancer Institute.

“The Covid pandemic has impacted cancer services. Patients were concerned about coming into hospital. Services had to be curtailed due to social distancing and redeployment of staff,” said Professor O’Reilly.

“Our health service still has not returned to normal. This has enormous implications, and our concern as oncologists is of delayed cancer diagnosis occurring as a result.”

“Cancer care is time dependent,” he said. “For example, colonoscopies are the gold standard of diagnosis for bowel cancers. Pre-pandemic, urgent referrals were seen within one month. Now, as a result of disruptions to service, 60% of referrals are waiting longer than three months.”

While hundreds of new doctors graduate in Ireland every year, many opt to work abroad in places like the United States and Australia, where health services are perceived to be more supportive of their specialist medical staff and treat them in an equitable manner.

“Cancer care is about talent. It is important that our public health system has the ability to recruit and retain the highest talent available. We need an environment that’s supportive. We also need an environment where there is demonstrable equity of treatment for all of our staff,” O’Reilly added.

In a document published last year, the HSE estimated that it will need to recruit an additional 73 consultant oncologists over the next seven to eight years to meet the demand on services – meaning the creation of and recruitment for an average of nine additional cancer specialists per year between now and 2028.

Professor Alan Irvine, President of the IHCA, said: “Treating cancer requires speed and efficiency. While Ireland has some of the best oncologists and doctors in the world, with the sheer number of vacant consultant posts there is only so much that they can achieve.

“Waiting lists are lengthening. Smaller teams are being burnt out. Older consultants are retiring. Meanwhile, Ireland’s population is growing and ageing and the general incidence of cancers is increasing. This is a deeply concerning and deeply volatile combination, but we needn’t stumble into health service collapse.”

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment

    Leave a commentcancel