Cancer services operating as low as half pre-Covid levels

Officials concerned over number of people waiting more than 52 weeks to access core therapies

Cancer services are operating as low as half of pre-Covid levels, Department of Health officials have indicated.

Medical oncology is at 70 per cent of previous figures, radiation oncology is at 80 per cent and surgery is at about 50 per cent, they say in a briefing document prepared for Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

“We are advised that it will not be possible to get the numbers back to where they were while implementing physical distancing and associated precautionary measures, without further space and resources.

“The challenges arising will be exacerbated by the number of patients who would normally have presented earlier coming forward in the next few months, on top of the increasing numbers arising more generally in line with an increasing and ageing population.”


Officials say a “key concern” is the significant number of people waiting more than 52 weeks to access core therapy services, many of them children. They include 7,400 people waiting over one year for occupational therapy assessment, almost 3,500 people waiting for physiotherapy and 750 people waiting for speech and language therapy assessment.

On the proposed move of the National Maternity Hospital to St Vincent's hospital, officials say "the legal framework is proving very complex as we seek to ensure that a hospital built with public funds, on lands not publicly owned, and operated by a voluntary hospital, is retained for public ownership".

"To date St Vincent's Healthcare Group has agreed to provide the State with a 99-year lease of the land upon which the new hospital will be built, and this will allow the State to retain ownership of the new hospital."

“The framework is intended to unequivocally copperfasten the principle that care in the new hospital will be delivered without religious, ethnic or other distinction and that any medical procedure, which is in accordance with the laws of the land, will be available there.”

Abortion services

The number of maternity units providing abortion services remains at 10 (out of 19), 18 months after termination of pregnancy legislation came into force, officials have told the Minister. Conscientious objection and staff recruitment are “significant challenges”.

The department is very concerned at reports the midwifery-led unit at Cavan General Hospital is to close and wants to see it supported, strengthened and expanded, the document says.

Ministerial licences to prescribe medical cannabis have been issued for 31 patients in Ireland and almost all travel to the Netherlands to procure their prescribed cannabis products, the document says.

However, a planned pilot programme giving wider access to medical cannabis for certain conditions, may be delayed because no funding had been provided for it this year.

The Department of Health has for years been in breach of national and EU data protection regulations in relation to the retention of bloodspot screening cards of newborns, according to the briefing document, which was prepared in June.

“The office of the data protection commissioner holds that the continued retention of the screening cards and the further processing of the data of identifiable living individuals for the purposes of DNA analysis, without the explicit consent of the individual concerned, is unlawful. This matter has been under consideration by the department for 10 years.”

There are no issues with the bloodspot card from 2011 onwards, because since then parental consent has been obtained.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.