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Irish people not being given the best possible chance of surviving cancer, Oireachtas Committee hears

Irish Cancer Society calls on new Taoiseach to support the National Cancer Strategy he launched in 2017

Government failure to adequately fund the National Cancer Strategy is putting lives at risk according to Irish Cancer Society CEO Averil Power.

Speaking at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health this morning, Power said Ireland’s National Cancer Strategy, which was launched in 2017 by then-Minister for Health Simon Harris, has only been fully funded in two of the last seven Budgets. The result is anyone receiving a cancer diagnosis in Ireland today doesn’t have the best possible chance of surviving the disease, or of having a good quality of life afterwards.

Ms Power said:

“The Irish Cancer Society was proud to sit on the steering committee that developed the Strategy and expected it to lead to further significant improvements in cancer survival rates here. However, the Government’s failure to properly fund the Strategy, and the impact of COVID-19 on cancer diagnosis and treatment, means we are no longer confident that will be the case. In fact, we are concerned that Ireland’s cancer outcomes may have stagnated or even disimproved.”

“Without funding, the National Cancer Strategy is a plan without action. And a plan without action is not a plan. It is just words. Words are no comfort to someone languishing on a waiting list for a cancer test, getting more worried by the day. Or to the healthcare professional trying to do their best in a chaotic system, knowing their patients aren’t getting the standard of care they deserve.”

Ms Power outlined several unmet targets in the current Strategy due to a sustained lack of funding and identified some areas where Ireland is going backwards.

“Target waiting times for cancer tests are consistently exceeded. Screening has not been expanded as planned. Expensive radiation equipment is lying idle in several hospitals due to an ongoing shortage of radiation therapists. Inequality between public and private patients is also growing, particularly in terms of access to new medicines.

It is truly shocking that this is being allowed to happen, particularly when we have such strong evidence that investment in cancer services works. It saves lives and it saves the State money in the long-term.”

The Irish Cancer Society is calling on Government and the incoming Taoiseach to ensure cancer is a political priority now and in the coming years and that the Government publishes a credible implementation plan for the Strategy with a commitment to ring-fenced multi-annual funding from 2024 onwards.

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