Sunday 25 September 2016

Public patients waiting up to 25 times longer for cancer care than private patients - report

Meadhbh McGrath

Published 26/04/2016 | 10:29

A new imaging technique has been used for the first time in Europe to scan a cancer patient - in a move that could help doctors tell whether a drug is working on a patient within a day or two of starting treatment. Stock Image/Getty Images
A new imaging technique has been used for the first time in Europe to scan a cancer patient - in a move that could help doctors tell whether a drug is working on a patient within a day or two of starting treatment. Stock Image/Getty Images

Public patients may have to wait up to 25 times as long as those paying privately for a vital cancer test, according to a new study.

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The report by the Irish Cancer Society notes “striking differences” in access, and that such waiting periods could reduce treatment options and affect chances of survival for public patients.

An in-depth survey of GPs across the country found that in some cases, public patients have to wait up to 480 days for an ultrasound, 360 days for gastrointestinal tests such as colonoscopies, 280 days for an MRI and 240 days for a brain scan.

Public patients wait an average of 119-125 days for an MRI of the spine, musculoskeletal system or brain, compared to less than a week for private patients.

The difference in average waiting times between public and private patients for an abdominal ultrasound is 75 days.

Private patients can get access to the test, which is used to diagnose ovarian or stomach cancer, within just five days, while public patients could be waiting up to 80 days.

“That’s just one of the tests, there are similar if not worse cases right across the myriad of tests that were analysed as part of this report for a range of different cancers,” Donal Buggy, head of services and advocacy with the Irish Cancer Society, told Newstalk Breakfast this morning.

“(GPs) are experiencing delayed investigations and referrals, and the primary difference between the patient population is ability to pay. Almost 90pc of GPs feel that ability to pay affects access,” he said.

Just under half of the population have private health insurance, around 39pc hold a medical card, and the remainder of the population has access to public healthcare but with little to no support for the costs involved.

Mr Buggy added that doctors are faced with the challenge of trying to get access for their patients and helping them to avoid lengthy waits.

“Four out of five family doctors have sent patients to an emergency department in an effort to bypass waiting times and this is obviously unsustainable,” he said.

“As we know, there are significant pressures on emergency departments. GPs are obviously and rightly worried about their patients in that instance.

“They’re trying to do their very best for them, they’re trying to ensure that they get early access to diagnosis because they know that early access can be the difference between life and death.”

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