Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Statements

 

1:45 pm

Photo of Violet WynneViolet Wynne (Clare, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

Long before Covid 19, crucial targets in the national cancer strategy were missed relating to timely access to diagnostics, surgery, radiotherapy and screening. We are in the middle of the State's third national cancer strategy and services are still under-resourced, including breast cancer services.

This month, as it is breast cancer awareness month, it would have been prudent, moral and entirely possible to announce a budget allocation for the restoration of many cancer services, including expenditure ring-fenced for additional screening to ease the anxiety experienced by so many women over the past 19 months. However, the budget did not do that. The Irish Cancer Society's justified ask of €45 million was abjectly ignored and just €30 million in additional funding was given. This is not just for the national cancer strategy but is to be spread across the development of myriad national health strategies. This is massively missing the mark. Sinn Féin's alternative budget would have allocated €42 million directly for cancer services. Early detection is indisputably important, as is timely access to treatment.

At a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health this week, BreastCheck representatives told us that screening was back on track. A quick visit to the commentary under BreastCheck social media posts shows dozens upon dozens of testimonies from women who are not so confident in the resumption of services. They include a testimony from a woman who has been waiting for seven months, having been referred by a GP after presenting symptomatically. Women are feeling ignored and dejected, and are frustrated by the situation.

I will mention one woman in particular in Clare. Ms Margaret O'Connor has been brave and patient and has ultimately been let down by the handling of screening services. I have submitted parliamentary questions on her behalf to try to get some form of accountability about how this situation has arisen. Ms O'Connor does not understand why she was not informed that screening had stopped. She has attended her mammogram every year. However, the service just stopped and she did not have access to a mammogram for 18 months. Worse still, she was not notified, there was no consultation or communication and no information was inputted on the website. Ms O'Connor would have gone for a private screening but instead was left in the dark battling rising anxiety. She knew something was wrong and eventually, a ball of nerves, she went to her doctor. Unfortunately, she had aggressive breast cancer. By the time comprehensive screening took place, it had unfortunately spread to her lung and liver. Ms O'Connor has said that the last year of her life has been a living nightmare. The registry is currently 12 months behind, which means that if a woman has not had a screening over the Covid period, she may have to wait another year, which will be three years in total without screening. Investment now in upscaling early detection measures is far more economically viable, as well as being better for our people.

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