Wednesday 20 November 2019

Harris vows to make access to cancer scans faster in 10-year plan

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Frank McGrath
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Frank McGrath
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Faster access to scans to diagnose patients with cancer is among the key pledges in a 10-year strategy to be launched today.

The National Cancer Strategy 2017-2026, to be outlined by Health Minister Simon Harris, promises to prioritise tackling inequalities in access to diagnostics as part of a major wide-ranging plan to improve survival rates from the disease.

Several reports have already highlighted the two-tier access to ultrasound, in particular, between private patients who face no delay and public patients who can still wait weeks to be seen.

The strategy warns current services are coming under pressure and the number of patients diagnosed with the illness will double by 2040 as the population ages. The Health Minister is expected to acknowledge that the previous strategy made great strides, but the new targets must "set the bar very high".

He wants to aim for "Ireland to achieve survival rates that will place us among the top performing countries in Europe".

He is also due to put strong emphasis on providing more support for the 150,000 people living beyond cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The strategy has a strong focus on prevention, with the message that 30pc to 40pc of cancers are avoidable.

However, it highlights the need for a rolling plan of capital investment to ensure high quality facilities are available for patients and staff .

"Further improvements in overall survival rates will require an emphasis on the proportion of patients diagnosed at an earlier stage of their disease."

A major challenge will involve the cost of new blockbuster cancer drugs which it describes as "exceedingly expensive".

In order to meet rising demand there will be a need to hire more medical oncologists and haematologists.

Rare cancers, which account for around 5,200 cases of the disease annually, need clearer pathways for diagnosis and treatment.

This must involve doctors becoming specialists in these cancers here, as well as linking up with expertise abroad.

The strategy will make a series of recommendations including expanding Bowelscreen, which tests for bowel cancer to the 55-74 year age group, by the end of 2021.

GPs are to be given more guidelines direction on identifying patients at risk of cancer and how to refer them for diagnosis and treatment.

It recommends patients who are diagnosed with cancer should have their case formally discussed at a multi-disciplinary team meeting involving various specialists.

It also calls for a programme to tackle hereditary cancers that run in families to ensure the evaluation, counselling, test and measures to reduce risk are available.

Greater efforts are needed to allow doctors and nurses to engage in research.

The HSE should appoint a clinical lead for cancer nursing.

Since the last strategy in 2006, cancer diagnosis and treatment has been concentrated in eight hospitals and there has been the launch of rapid access clinics for patients with lung and prostate cancer.

Smoking rates have fallen, but around one in five of the population still smokes.

Irish Independent

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