Oireachtas Special Committee on COVID-19 Response

Summary: 
Early indications from other countries suggest significant decreases in cancer survival in high-income countries could happen as a result of COVID-19, which would dwarf the number of deaths caused by COVID-19, and reverse hard-fought improvements in recent decades.
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Executive Summary

COVID-19 has had a damaging impact on cancer patients and people anxiously awaiting important diagnostic tests and screening.

212 COVID-related deaths in cancer patients have been recorded to datei, but we have yet to see the full scale of its secondary impact on cancer mortality due to delayed diagnoses and treatment. However, as COVID-19 case numbers thankfully subside and society “re-opens”, urgent action is needed to prevent excess secondary cancer deaths as a result of restrictions.

Early indications from other countries suggest significant decreases in cancer survival in high-income

countries could happen as a result of COVID-19, which would dwarf the number of deaths caused by

iiiii COVID-19, and reverse hard-fought improvements in recent decades .

The Irish Cancer Society does not believe that this is inevitable, however. While the pandemic thrust a cruel psychological, social and economic burden upon already vulnerable patients, further anguish can be prevented.

The State must redouble its efforts to improve patient care, quality of life and survival, and implement a structured and funded recovery plan to support cancer patients and the thousands more awaiting a diagnosis.

This submission is informed by the Irish Cancer Society’s engagement with patients, people waiting for diagnostic tests and screening, clinicians and Government and public health officials, and below are a number of key recommendations we wish to see actioned by Government to prevent the worst predictions and build the best possible future for cancer patients.

Overview of Recommendations

  1. Make ring-fenced funding available for a HSE recovery plan and publish contingency planning for a second wave of COVID-19, that prioritises continuity of cancer services;

  2. Take urgent action on waiting lists by using short term interventions, including appropriate triaging, prioritisation based on clinical need and utilisation of all available capacity

  3. Perform a rapid capacity review of cancer services to assess current capacity and demand;

  4. Address reduction of capacity due to social distancing by making immediate investment in temporary builds while committing to overdue investment in oncology day wards, operating theatres, community diagnostics, elective-only hospitals and a comprehensive cancer centre;

  5. Appropriately resource diagnostic, radiology and laboratory departments to allow timely

    access to investigations for both hospital doctors and GPs in the community;

  6. Recruit and retain more doctors and healthcare professionals. There are now over 500 vacant consultant posts (not just cancer), while a comprehensive workforce plan for cancer services

    remains unpublished;

  1. Clear communications campaigns are needed on the signs and symptoms of cancers, in light of drops in GP presentation and referral

  2. Ensure appropriate diagnostic and treatment pathways are available to screening services upon resumption;

  3. Future-proof health services by focusing on expedited delivery of the National Cancer Strategy and Sláintecare;

  4. Expand national psycho-oncology service to match existing demand and cater for additional cases of distress caused by COVID;

  5. Provide clearer communication to “extremely medically vulnerable” patients around protection measures and employment, and examine social protection supports for those still unable to return to work;

  6. Maintain “community call” supports at local authority level.