*Patients are now needing ‘bigger, more complicated procedures’ with some ‘really shocking cancer cases’ that used to be treated far earlier – top cancer surgeon says
*Concerns over capacity to deal with ‘oncoming tide’ of cancer cases
*Call for Government to fund transition to Sláintecare
Investment of €45 million is urgently needed in Budget 2022 to rebuild pandemic-hit cancer services so they can cope with an expected upcoming surge in demand, the Irish Cancer Society has said.
In its 2022 Pre-Budget Submission the Society highlights that the pandemic and cyberattack exposed Ireland’s fragile and underfunded health system.
Relentless competition with other types of urgent care for theatre space, beds and other resources has caused delays to providing vital cancer care for patients at the earliest opportunity.
Within the €45m figure is a proposed €15m to deal with existing services backlogs and an anticipated surge in demand.
The Irish Cancer Society is also asking the Government to make funding available towards the €3 billion transitional fund called for in the Sláintecare report to deliver a system of universal healthcare based on need and not the ability to pay.
The calls come amid warnings from doctors and healthcare professionals about an oncoming tide of later stage cancer cases that will emerge because people put off seeking medical advice during the pandemic, as well as ongoing delays accessing tests and treatment.
Consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr Shirley Potter says she now sees “shocking” cases of advanced cancers which used to be rare as they were picked up earlier: “Access for surgical procedures has been extremely challenging: even before Covid the pressures on the system were not acceptable, and when you add in the pandemic on top of that it has made things even worse.
“Patients who had delayed access to healthcare because of the pandemic are now needing bigger, more complicated procedures. We are seeing some really shocking cancer cases now that you used to see only very rarely.
“It will take years for these to filter through the system and while urgent surgeries are being done, the more of them we’re seeing it’s having a bigger knock-on effect with elective cases pushed further and further down the line, which is why we need this investment now for more capacity and resources to deal with this situation.”
Consultant Medical Oncologist Prof Seamus O’Reilly said: “The Covid pandemic has been a challenging time for patients, families and healthcare workers including administrative and civil service staff – its legacy on each of these groups has and will be significant, compromising the advances in care and outcomes witnessed in the past two decades in Ireland.”
He added: “While the pandemic has demonstrated the significant human capital in Irish healthcare it has also magnified inequalities and exposed vulnerabilities – resourcing is needed to regain lost ground and also to develop 21st Century infection control and patient dignity-appropriate infrastructure”
Commenting on its 2022 Pre-Budget Submission, Irish Cancer Society Director of Advocacy Rachel Morrogh said: “We believe real action is required now to stem the tide of oncoming cancer cases and ensure prompt diagnosis and world-class treatment as envisaged in the National Cancer Strategy.
“We don’t just need to rescue cancer services from the immediate crisis: we need to take this opportunity to make sure cancer services are stronger and more sustainable than before the pandemic, and that Budget 2022 delivers for patients and survivors in our communities.”
The charity’s Pre-Budget Submission also calls for more funding to increase capacity for diagnostic services including colonoscopies and endoscopies to help ease current severe backlogs, along with a proposed €25m allocation to abolish all inpatient charges, and support for crucial clinical trials as well as a range of important cancer prevention measures.