Cancelling operations for cancer 'has to stop'
CANCELLATION of planned surgery on cancer patients occurs on a regular basis but should not be allowed to continue, an independent report has warned.
It is leading to considerable delays in diagnosis and treatment, due to a lack of beds for cancer patients who must make room for admissions from hospital emergency departments.
A lack of specialist nurses in some areas also poses a patient safety risk.
The concern has emerged in a Department of Health-commissioned peer review analysis of the national cancer strategy which was carried out by Professor Padraig Warde of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto.
It was published as Health Minister Leo Varadkar announced a new national steering group, chaired by Prof John Kennedy of St James's Hospital, to advise the department on developing a new national cancer strategy for 2016-2024.
The review noted that impressive progress had been made in cancer services since the publication of the 2006 strategy, but said some areas needed significant attention.
These include delays in surgery and major gaps in patient care for people with spinal metastases.
Staffing shortages are still a problem in all areas among nurses, doctors and allied health professionals.
It warned that nursing shortages in chemotherapy delivery units were a major concern in terms of patient safety. It said the lack of "advanced nurse practitioners in this area was startling compared to other jurisdictions. The widespread use of agency nurses on in-patient units, who are unfamiliar with hospital processes, should be phased out".
There are currently 34 medical oncologists in Ireland, but by international standards there should be at least 60.
Rapid access clinics for prostate patients also suffer a lack of urologists in some regions.
Mr Varadkar said the objective of the next strategy was to "bring Ireland to the top tier of countries when it comes to cancer care".
The 23-member steering group includes a range of medical and nursing experts as well as representatives of the hospice and carers' organisations.
A cancer patient forum has 16 members, most of whom have direct experience of cancer services. They would have a strong input into the final strategy, he added.