THE government is being warned that more people will die from delayed and missed cancer diagnoses, than from Covid-19, unless funding for oncology treatment and screening is properly supported over the course of the pandemic.
Medical card campaigner John Wall, who himself has Stage IV cancer, was reacting to a briefing from The Department of Health outlining reduced services, as well as major increase in waiting lists.
“Obviously, the pandemic is absolutely catastrophic,” he said. “But, the fact is that more people are dying every day of the week from cancer than from Covid-19. Covid cases must be dealt with in conjunction with oncology services. There is no doubt but that those delivering health services are doing their very best, but the reality is that people are already going undiagnosed and cancers are being missed, and that before you factor in the impact of Covid-19. I see, every day, the issues that people are having when they don’t get a diagnosis early enough.”
Commenting on the cost of coping with the pandemic, and the likely knock-on impact on routine health spending, Councillor Ann Norton – a former member of the regional health forum – agreed that essential health services must not be curtailed. The Independent member, who was diagnosed with Covid-19 herself in April, said she feels that money was wasted during the response to the pandemic. “I would congratulate the Health Service Executive (HSE) in one way,” she said. “They achieved a lot, but, on the other hand, a huge amount of money was wasted that could have been better spent. Taking over the private hospitals was a stupid thing to do. It didn’t achieve what it should have and it didn’t address the issue of getting waiting lists down for elective procedures. My concern is now that Covid-19 will be the excuse for continued under-funding.”
Both advocates predicted a challenging winter, as the health service responds to an increase in general demand, as well as a possible second wave of coronavirus infections. “Many more people will have to be tested over the winter,” Mr Wall noted. “There will be major pressure and a further diversion of vital resources into that. We do have to remember everyone who died during the first wave of Covid, but we cannot simply direct all of our resources into the pandemic response in the event of a second wave. The evidence seems to suggest that those being infected now are younger and at less risk of serious illness. We need to ensure we are looking after our nursing homes, other residential centres and meat factories, but we cannot drop everything this time around. We need to treat Covid in conjunction with all of the other conditions – including cancer – that need to be treated.”
Mr Wall urged the government to get screening services back up and running as quickly as possible. “We have to catch up with the likes of Bowel Screen and Breast Check,” he said. “More people will die from cancer this year than Covid, we need to remember that. We will soon have a cancer pandemic on our hands.”
“When you’re sick,” commented Councillor Norton, “the last thing you need is to have another fight on your hands. This winter will be a very dangerous one in so many ways. By failing to invest in vital services, the government is playing with peoples’ lives. That’s the scary thing. The patient is not the priority, it seems to me to be about money and spin. The impact of Covid-19 will be very far reaching. Projects are going to be put on the long finger – again – and waiting lists will grow. Community services are already being hit and the likes of adult disability services aren’t up and running. The pressure on families is huge. Yet again, when it comes to funding services, it’s the most vulnerable who take the hit.”