Charities welcome new cancer strategy

Focus shift from setting up services to people using them welcomed by Irish Cancer Society

Minister for Health Simon Harris; cancer patient Rhona Nally, from Knocklyon, Dublin; and Dermot Breen of the Irish Cancer Society: “We are particularly pleased to note the creation of the role of lead of psycho-oncology,” said Mr Breen. “This is recognition by the State of the psychological effects of cancer.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The experiences of cancer patients will be greatly improved over the next 10 years because of the new National Cancer Strategy, the Irish Cancer Society has said.

ARC Cancer Support Centres has also welcomed the strategy, but has urged the Government to commit appropriate resources to ensure its speedy implementation.

Launched on Wednesday by Minister for Health Simon Harris, the strategy is focused on cancer prevention and early diagnosis, as well as the provision of optimal care and the maximisation of patients’ quality of life.

Dermot Breen, chairman of the Irish Cancer Society, said over the next 10 years, the experiences of cancer patients would be greatly improved and the general public would be far more aware of the ways they could reduce their risk of getting cancer.


The new strategy provides a welcome shift in focus from the organisation and establishment of cancer services, to “those who are at the heart of these services; people affected by and living after cancer”, he said.

“We are particularly pleased to note the creation of the role of lead of psycho-oncology,” he said. “This is recognition by the State of the psychological effects of cancer.”

Finance and social issues

The society also welcomed the commitment to carrying out a needs assessment for cancer survivors. Cancer can bring financial, practical and social issues with it, Mr Breen said.

He also said the society had identified areas where the strategy “could and should go further” and it was disappointing there were no targets set for reducing people’s risk of cancer.

On funding, Mr Breen said in addition to appropriate resourcing of the strategy, the future needs of patients needed to be anticipated, particularly around financing of cancer drugs and treatments.

Deirdre Grant, chief executive of ARC Cancer Support Centres, which provides free psychological support to people with cancer, also emphasised the need for appropriate funding.

She said when people received psycho-social support in the right place at the right time, their quality of life was improved.

“We particularly welcome the recommendation on working in conjunction with cancer support centres to conduct a cancer survivorship needs assessment to put in place a suitable model of survivorship healthcare, and to develop and implement survivorship programmes for patients,” Ms Grant said.

Psycho-oncology services

She said dedicated psycho-oncology services were previously recommended in the 2006 strategy, but had only been partially addressed. It was vital a comprehensive support service plan was prioritised in conjunction with the voluntary sector, she said.

Also commenting on the strategy, Labour Party health spokesman Deputy Alan Kelly said the report highlighted the need to retain and recruit highly trained staff into the health service.

“The retention of existing – and recruitment of new – staff has been a consistent issue for the health service, and if this strategy is to have any impact, it is clear that the Government needs to increase efforts in this regard,” he said.

He welcomed the focus on the expansion of existing cancer screening as well as the inclusion of facilities specifically designed for teenagers and young people in the new National Children’s’ Hospital.

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist