The rising incidence and prevalence of cancer is being driven by Ireland’s ageing population and the success of long-term treatments in improving survival.
A report from the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) warns that smooth future planning is being impeded by the recession and a recruitment moratorium.
The current financial climate was causing “capacity constraints” in beds, theatre, and intensive care units. There is also uncertainty about the availability of development funding.
There is concern that patient access to new drugs may be affected by spending restrictions; specialist staff may not be appointed in sufficient numbers; and that competition for hospital beds may impact on timely access to care for cancer patients.
The report, on progress made since the 2006 National Cancer Strategy, says more than 60% of cancers are cured, with advanced cancers evolving into chronic diseases.
Former NCCP national director Dr Susan O’Reilly says the focus in the next decade will be on personalised medicine, where drugs target specific features of cancer cells. “Cancer prevention and screening will be a long-term priority and cancer survivorship will emerge as a dominant theme.”
With more patients likely to survive the disease, they may develop physical and psychological needs, which, the report states, can best be addressed by primary care.
Last September, a panel of international experts began an independent evaluation of Ireland’s national cancer strategy. The group was appointed by Health Minister Leo Varadkar as a first step in developing a new strategy. The report is yet to be published.
Mr Varadkar has appointed a steering group to assist the Department of Health in drawing up the next strategy, to run from 2016 to 2025, adding that work on developing the plan had already started.
“I look forward to the development of more initiatives to prevent cancer, to treat it early, to improve the quality of patients’ lives, and to maximise the quality of life for survivors,” Mr Varadkar said.
Dr O’Reilly, who recently moved from her post to take up the role of chief executive of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, said she had made it clear survival rates could be improved by 10% as a result of re-organising services.
“We have already witnessed significant improvement in survival rates and we will see this continue as we successfully diagnose patients earlier, giving them prompt access to standardised care delivered through multi-disciplinary teams.”