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One small change: A clinical trials manager on how to make Ireland’s health system better

‘Patients should be encouraged to ask doctors about participating in research’

Cancer is one of the main causes of death in Ireland, accounting for approximately 30 per cent of deaths every year. The one small change within the health service I would like to see is for clinical trials to become an integral part of cancer patient treatment and accessible to any patient who wants to participate. This would ultimately lead to the development of new drugs and treatments for cancer.

Currently, only 1 to 2 per cent of cancer patients is enrolled in clinical trials. To improve this situation, we must inform all patients about any clinical trial that is available to them and how they can access these trials.

Clinical trials test a new drug, new surgical procedures, new forms/doses of radiotherapy or a combination of existing licensed drugs used in a different sequence or for a different cancer type.

Patients should be encouraged and empowered to ask their doctor about participating in a trial or a research study. Patients can ask their doctor during any of their visits. There is a research team available to discuss trial options with the patient as well as online resources such as Cancer Trials Ireland website. At St James’s Hospital, we have a dedicated section for cancer clinical trials on our website.

Better informed

Participation in a clinical trial usually involves additional visits to the hospital and additional tests for the patient. This can sometimes be a source of concern for patients but those who do participate often comment on how they feel more supported and better informed about their treatment during a clinical trial.

Treatment plans for patients with cancer at the Trinity St James’s Cancer Institute are developed by cancer specialists at multidisciplinary team meetings. Possible options for participating in a clinical trial could be identified at these meetings and presented to patients for consideration if they are suitable candidates.

For this to happen, specialist cancer clinical trials staff and resources would need to become an integral part of public hospital infrastructure as this is not the norm in Ireland. Medical staff conducting clinical trials would need support staff to help them manage the research requirements as well as deal with the regular treatment needs of their patients. If doctors had protected time in their working week to allow them to conduct and even design clinical trials, this would be the first step to encouraging more clinicians to offer patients the opportunity to partake in a clinical trial.

  • As our health system begins to return to normal activity levels following the Covid-19 pandemic, we would like to hear about one change you would like to see in our health system. It can be something simple that annoys you, day in, day out, that is easily fixed, or it can be a small change in practice or attitude that would make life easier for everyone. Email with your suggestion or fill in the form below.
Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment