Tuesday 19 September 2017

Cancer survival rises - but prostate clinics face delays

Cancer survival rates in Ireland
Cancer survival rates in Ireland

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

LESS than half of men with potential symptoms of prostate cancer are being seen within the recommended deadline after being referred to HSE-run rapid-access clinics.

The men should be seen within 20 days of referral - but in the first half of last year, just 44pc were given an appointment in that time frame, mostly due to a lack of urologists.

Nearly four out of every 10 men referred to these clinics are diagnosed with prostate cancer, which affects 3,267 patients annually.

Clinics in Galway, Limerick and Waterford have continuously struggled to meet targets, according to the progress report on the 2006 National Cancer Strategy.

The problem in recruiting cancer specialists, even when finance is available, is listed as one of the risks the cancer service is facing - with consequences for patient care.

The National Cancer Strategy led to the reorganisation of cancer diagnosis and treatment into eight centres - down from 32 hospitals.

It has led to a marked improvement in patient care, but the full impact will not be felt for some time to come, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said at the launch yesterday.

However, he said figures show patients' survival rate at five years from diagnosis increased from 42pc in the mid- to late-1990s to 59pc between 2006 and 2011.

He said new posts for a range of consultants with salaries of up to €175,000 will be advertised in the coming weeks.

"It is not just about money. They want to ensure they have an office or administrative support," he added.

Dr Susan Reilly, the outgoing head of cancer services in the HSE, said timely access in breast cancer clinics had been maintained, although in 2014 there were difficulties in maintaining targets due to staffing challenges and patient volumes.

The report noted a range of other priorities which also "remain a work in progress", including a doubling of incidence by 2040.

The current financial climate is also leading to pressure on availability of beds, theatre and intensive care units.

The cost of expensive new cancer drugs may affect patients getting access to these cutting-edge therapies.

Hospital-based cancer drugs account for around half of the overall spending on cancer medicines.

It warned the reorganisation of hospitals into groups could also undermine the centralisation of cancer surgeries into eight centres.

It also pointed out that hereditary cancer services in Ireland remain considerably under-resourced.

At the national centre for medical genetics waiting times for a first appointment for someone who wants to be tested to see if they have an inherited gene are more than six months.

The minister said he will develop a new strategy for 2016-2025.

Commenting on the developments, Professor John Kennedy, a cancer specialist in St James's Hospital, said he was particularly pleased to see the rise in the numbers of patients receiving radiotherapy and cuts in waiting times.

"Overall survival rates have dramatically increased over the last 20 years due to people getting better therapy.

"The chances of a woman diagnosed with breast cancer today in Ireland being alive in 20 years is the same as the chance her mother would have had of being alive in five years. It's a generational difference due to better treatment and more of it."

Irish Independent

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