The risk of dying from cancer could increase for the next 10 years unless action is taken now, a Cork-based oncologist has said.
As the Irish Examiner reports, the disruption caused by the pandemic to screening and diagnostics is likely to have a significant impact in the coming years. Pre-pandemic, urgent referrals for colonoscopies were seen within a month. Now, 60 per cent are waiting over three months.
Research carried out by the American National Cancer Institute found a six-month disruption to cancer services increases mortality for a decade.
Professor Seamus O'Reilly expects to see the same impact here. “Cancer care is time-dependent,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) during European Week Against Cancer, he said social distancing and staff redeployment impacted care.
“This has enormous implications, and our concern as oncologists is of delayed cancer diagnosis occurring as a result.”
Prof. O’Reilly highlighted staff shortages as a key issue. Referring to newly-recruited consultants earning less than their colleagues he said: “We also need an environment where there is demonstrable equity of treatment for all of our staff.”
He warned staff shortages in other areas also impact cancer patients who need “additional psychological care, radiology, surgery, physiotherapy."
“Cancer care is an ecosystem, and when one of those fields is weakened, the supporting iron wall keeping patients safe becomes less rigid, and their outcome worsens,” he said.
Professor Alan Irvine, president of the IHCA said the high number of vacant consultant posts exacerbates delays for patients.
The IHCA estimate one-in-five consultant posts are vacant or filled by a locum doctor.
A report last year for the HSE’s National Doctors Training & Planning unit found 73 doctors between medical oncology - 52 – and radiation oncology – 21 – should be recruited by 2028.
The report found even larger gaps in medical staffing for respiratory medicine and infectious diseases.