€700,000 for cancer tests 'not enough'
Charity warns NTPF investment will not help as 650 wait more than a year for a colonoscopy
The Irish Cancer Society has warned the health system will grind to a halt because steps are being taken to shorten waiting lists instead of preventing them from happening.
More than 650 patients have been waiting more than a year for a colonoscopy, while cancer referral targets are not being met.
In some cases this can have devastating consequences, with delays in diagnosing the disease leading to patients needing more intensive treatment.
The Irish Cancer Society is now expressing concern that appropriate action is not being taken to tackle the disease. It has called for more resources to help prevent waiting lists from occurring.
Head of services and advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society, Donal Buggy, said there has been no progress on meeting cancer referral targets in the past year.
"If you look at urgent breast cancer referrals, the target is that we would see 95pc of women within two weeks. In 2016, 78pc of women were seen within two weeks. That figure is the same this year.
"The waiting times, or the proportion of people being seen, is the same. We are not meeting the targets.
"The earlier you diagnose a cancer, the more likely that it is treatable and curable and the treatment less invasive.
"With colon cancer, if it is diagnosed in stage one, more than nine out of 10 people will be alive five years later. If diagnosed at stage four, fewer than 10pc will be alive five years later. There is a big impact. It's not the only factor, but time can be crucial."
He said colonoscopy waiting times demonstrate how targets have an impact on patients. At the end of last month, 654 of the patients waiting for a colonoscopy had been on the list for more than a year.
"We know that almost one in two people wait more than three months for a colonoscopy," said Mr Buggy.
Lack of progress on waiting lists, and Ireland's ageing population, will lead to increased pressure on the health service.
"More and more older people come into the system every year. Cancer is primarily a disease of ageing. Even if you are making progress, you are making progress to stand still."
The HSE said Rapid Access Clinics for common cancers such as breast, prostate, lung and melanoma are designed so urgent patients can be seen quickly.
Hospital targets are continuously monitored by the HSE's National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP).
A €700,000 outsourcing initiative by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) expects from this month to start providing endoscopies for an extra 700 of the longest-waiting patients. The NTPF is working to identify patients who will be offered tests at private hospitals.
Mr Buggy said this investment was not enough. "That is important for people on the list at that time and great for relieving immediate pressure, but it doesn't deal with the underlying issues.
"Driving efficiencies can only get you so far, it comes to a point where you need greater capacity.
"With all tests, a lot of people can be waiting up to 12 or 18 months. Ultimately they could be fine, but the psychological impact of having to wait 12 months for a test which may be cancer is something really difficult to cope with."