New cancer strategy is an essential buttress

All of us will be touched by the disease at some point in our lives

 

The new National Cancer Strategy, approved by the Government last week, is an important commitment to ensuring the continued improvement of cancer services in the Republic.

At a cost of €100 million a year over the next 10 years, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he will seek funding for the strategy on an incremental basis as part of the annual budget process. Some 52 recommendations, divided into short, medium and long term goals, will be the subject of a yearly Department of Health report outlining progress in meeting key performance indicators.

Ever since a spine of eight specialist cancer centres was put in place by the inaugural director of the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP), Prof Tom Keane, uniform access and standardised high quality treatment have become the norm. However, we still lag our European neighbours when it comes to surviving cancer. The strategy steering group has responded by setting an ambitious target of placing Ireland in the top quartile of European countries for cancer survival in 10 years time.

A welcome emphasis in the latest strategy is greater public involvement. A National Cancer Patient Forum had a central role and a series of public submissions have also informed the final document. An emphasis on cancer prevention initiatives and the development of psycho-social services reflects this input. And formal patient involvement is set to continue.

As much as premium cancer care depends on ongoing capital investment and the funding of new treatments, the system cannot function without the health professionals who staff the service. And as Harris wrote in The Irish Times last week, in reference to cancer care and the ongoing staffing crisis in the health system, “one of our key challenges now is retaining these people and attracting those newly qualified and those working abroad into our services”.

All of us will be touched by cancer at some point in our lives, with one in three developing the disease. A fully resourced National Cancer Strategy is an essential buttress against this reality.

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