Infographic showing highlights from Department of Health National Cancer Strategy
July 5, 2017

National Cancer Strategy: Irish Cancer Society Welcomes Expansion of Focus from Cancer Services to the Needs of People Dealing with Cancer

The Irish Cancer Society has welcomed the publication of the new National Cancer Strategy which outlines how the Department of Health will meet the needs of those affected by cancer in Ireland over the next ten years. The new strategy builds on the progress made since the National Cancer Control programme began in 2006 and sees 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.

Dermot Breen, Chairman of the Irish Cancer Society says that the implementation of the Strategy will mean people with cancer will have better experiences and there will be better outcomes for people after their cancer. “The Irish Cancer Society strongly supports the Government’s efforts to tackle cancer head on. Ireland now has a world-class cancer infrastructure in place and it is important that we now focus on treating the person, not just the disease.”

“We would expect that over the next ten years, the experiences of cancer patients will be greatly improved in many aspects of their care and that the general public will be far more aware of the ways they can reduce their risk of getting cancer. The Irish Cancer Society will support the Department of Health to achieve its vision for cancer care in Ireland and will be a strong voice for patients throughout the term of the Strategy, ensuring its ambition is met.

"There are a number of actions in the new Strategy that will ensure a person-centred approach in cancer care, and Mr. Breen said “we are particularly pleased to note the creation of the role of Lead of Psycho-oncology.

“This is a recognition by the State of the psychological effects of cancer. The Irish Cancer Society has heard over and over again from cancer patients and their families that, as the word ‘cancer’ is spoken, the person vanishes and a patient and tumour are left behind. All focus turns to treatment while the emotional needs of the person with cancer are often overlooked. Having the right support, at the right time and from the right people is vital to how people experience and deal with their cancer and life afterwards.

“We also welcome the commitment to carrying out a ‘Needs Assessment’ for cancer survivors. The Irish Cancer Society knows that cancer can bring financial, practical and social issues with it, so we will ensure the Government’s response to the Needs Assessment proposes adequate solutions to these problems, improving the lives of people who have been affected by cancer and their families.”

Mr Breen continued, “We are delighted to see that cancer tests will be more accessible to the people who need them, and this is an issue the Society has long campaigned for. Getting diagnosed early greatly increases the chances of surviving most types of cancer and it should not be dependent on someone’s ability to pay.”

The Irish Cancer Society has identified certain areas where the Strategy could and should go further. “The fact that there are no targets in the National Cancer Strategy around reducing people’s risk of cancer is disappointing,” Mr. Breen continued. “While we welcome the fact that a new Cancer Prevention function will be established within the National Cancer Control Programme, the overall responsibility for influencing people’s health behaviours remains with Healthy Ireland. Of the 40,000 cases of cancer that are likely to be diagnosed annually by 2020, four in ten of these could be avoided by a healthy lifestyle. Healthy Ireland’s health promotion policies will specifically impact the cancer rate in Ireland and need firm commitment.”

The Society also says that it’s important that the Strategy is adequately funded. “In order for the aspiration set out in the National Cancer Strategy to be achieved, there needs to be appropriate resourcing” says Mr. Breen. “In addition to this, the Irish Cancer Society wants to ensure that the future needs of patients are anticipated, particularly around financing of cancer drugs and treatments.”

“We would strongly support a ring-fenced fund for cancer drugs, which would provide confidence to patients that when a new treatment becomes available, they can access it. As cancer drugs are part of the reason we speak so optimistically about improved cancer survival rates, it’s important that the Government acts strategically by planning for investment in new treatments.”

Mr Breen concluded, “Overall, we believe that the new National Cancer Strategy sets out a positive and patient-focused plan for the next ten years. Our role will be to ensure that the vision expressed in the Strategy is translated into real progress and measurable impact. We look forward to the reality of having a cancer system that treats the person, not just the disease.”