| 11.9°C Dublin

The cancer divide: deaths three times higher in poor areas


Kathleen O'Meara, Head of Advocacy and Communications with the Irish Cancer Society.

Kathleen O'Meara, Head of Advocacy and Communications with the Irish Cancer Society.

Liam Burke Press 22


Kathleen O'Meara, Head of Advocacy and Communications with the Irish Cancer Society.

a GP in one of the country's cancer "blackspots" has revealed how one of her patients had to wait eight months for a scan before being diagnosed with kidney cancer.

Dr Edel McGinnity, a family doctor in Mulhuddart in north-west Dublin, was speaking as a study showed the rich-poor divide leaves people in disadvantaged areas three times more likely to die of cancer than neighbours in affluent suburbs.

High rates of cancer deaths are recorded in Dublin's Blakestown, Blandchardstown north and Ballymun east compared to the more well-off areas of Foxrock, Malahide and Casteknock, the study by Dr Jan Rigby and colleagues of the Centre for Health Geoinformatics at NUI Maynooth revealed.

The reasons are complex with higher lifestyle risks, such as smoking among people in some deprived areas. But access to healthcare is also affecting survival rates.

Dr McGinnity said the delays are also experienced by her patients who may have bowel cancer symptoms and need a colonoscopy. They can wait seven months while in the south-east of Dublin the delay is three months.

"We need an allocation of resources according to need," she said, criticising plans to give free GP care to all under-sixes including those from well-off families."I have patients under six who may not see their 38th birthday, let alone their 50th," she added.

Similar gaps are seen in other parts of the country for cancer and other major killers.

Dr McGinnity was speaking at the annual Charles Cully lecture organised by the Irish Cancer Society. The main speakers were Prof Richard Wilkinson and Prof Kate Pickett, authors of the 'The Spirit Level' a best-selling book which looks at why a more equal society is better for all of us.

Prof Wilkinson said: "Societies with a bigger gap between rich and poor are bad for everyone in them - including the well-off. And unfortunately Ireland features relatively high on the list for a large income inequality."

Kathleen O'Meara, head of advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society, said it was clear that where you live has a huge influence on your cancer risk.

"Unfortunately, the more deprived the area, the higher the risk of a person getting and dying from cancer. As well as this, often the poorest in society, have the greatest difficulties in accessing healthcare.

"In some deprived Dublin areas, there are not enough primary care resources - for instance in North Dublin there is one GP for every 2,500 people. Nationally this figure is 1:1600. In addition there have been increased A& E charges, long-stay charges and increased prescription charges. By 2013 it has meant that every person in Ireland was on average paying about €100 in additional costs for accessing care and prescribed drugs.

"Despite the strides made in cancer diagnosis and treatment in the last few decades, Ireland has become a very unequal society on health problems, particularly cancer and access to healthcare. If we are serious about reducing the cancer rate we need to tackle this worrying divide. It is a challenge facing all of us," she added.

"We must work now to begin to close this gap."

Irish Independent