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Cancer patients not being given best chance of survival due to wait times, Oireachtas committee hears

*Concern over cancer cases missed during pandemic: Irish Cancer Society CEO Averil Power

*Patients face long waits, packed hospital rooms and late cancellations once in the system

Patients in Ireland are not being given the best chance of surviving cancer due to long wait times and overcrowding in the health system, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

People with diagnoses that may have been picked up at a later stage due to the pandemic are having to run the gauntlet of packed hospitals to receive care and treatment. There is also concern that others may be put off seeking medical assistance due to the chaos, according to the Irish Cancer Society.

Speaking to members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health on Wednesday, the Society’s CEO Averil Power said: “Our central concern is that in Ireland today, people are not being given the best chance of surviving cancer and having a good quality of life.

“The earlier cancer is caught, the easier it is to treat, and the greater the person’s chances are of surviving the disease. The 5-year survival for breast cancer for example is 94% at stage I and only 19% at stage IV.

“The disruption we are seeing could not have come at a worse time. Over that first year of the pandemic, 1 in 10 expected cancers were not diagnosed– this translates to over 2,600 people. Real people with loved ones, for whom a delayed cancer diagnosis is not a statistic, it’s a whole world collapsing. This reflects just one year of the pandemic.

“We are already seeing later stage cancers being picked up in Emergency Departments. We simply cannot afford for people to be deterred from seeking healthcare at this time.

“A cancer diagnosis is devastating and the prospect of treatment and the inevitable side-effects that follow is terrifying. And that is before the stress of delays, cancellations, financial barriers, crowded corridors, over-worked healthcare professionals and ultimately the worry that your care is not as good as it should be.

“Despite all the challenges they and their patients face, healthcare workers continue to offer compassion, kindness, professional knowledge, understanding and empathy to the thousands of patients who are currently using Ireland’s cancer services. They also deserve better than the conditions in which they are currently being made to work.

“We are grateful for the funding injection into cancer services that Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has given in previous years, but more needs to be done.

“Despite the situation at the moment, we believe that this can be turned around. With renewed focus on the National Cancer Strategy, investment in bricks and mortar, beds and equipment, as well as empowering the National Cancer Control Programme and resourcing and retaining our incredible cancer workforce, we think that the future could be more positive.”

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