Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Statements


2:55 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú) | Oireachtas source

It is shocking that during the time of this debate so far about ten people in the State will have been diagnosed with cancer. It shows the prevalence of the illness and the damage it does annually in this country. I was one of those statistics about a year ago. Thank God, I am back to full health at present. I was both lucky and unlucky. My diagnosis was delayed because of Covid, but I have a brother who works in the sector. He is a professor in cell biology and when restrictions lifted he noticed the lesion and urged me to go to a doctor, which could well have saved my life.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an integral part of our war on cancer. The message for every man and woman in the country has to be that if he or she notices a lump, strange spots, a mole or things that have changed, he or she must not waste time and get checked absolutely immediately. Timely diagnosis and treatment are radically important. There has been great frustration throughout the country that, in many ways, diagnosis and treatment have been significantly delayed even though cancer is the biggest killer in the country. Some of the statistics I have looked at recently are quite startling. The statistics of the national cancer registry dating back to 2019 found that Ireland's five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 82%. This is poor by European standards. If one is diagnosed with breast cancer in Sweden, one is 7% more likely to survive for five years than if one is diagnosed in Ireland. If one is diagnosed in Britain, one is 5% more likely to survive for five years than if one is diagnosed in Ireland. We have much work to do to reach the European standards.

The divide is not just geographical in this regard. There is also an economic divide in our country. Last week, I tabled a question for the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly. In his reply he indicated that currently in the State there is a differential of a whopping 12% in the five-year survival rate for breast cancer in respect of whether one has been diagnosed and treated in a private hospital or a public hospital. That is a startling fact. There is a radical two-tier practical effect on one's ability to survive cancer depending on where one's diagnosis happens and whether it is a private or public hospital. Women diagnosed with breast cancer in a designated cancer centre have an 85% chance of survival for five years while those diagnosed in what is termed as an "other public hospital" have an 81% chance of survival for the first five years but those diagnosed in a private hospital have a 93% chance of survival. These statistics go back to 2019.

In certain hospitals, for example, when a woman is going for a biopsy they reassure her before diagnosis by scheduling chemotherapy sessions for the following day. The woman has an appointment to hear the results of the biopsy and she also has an appointment to get chemotherapy the following day, just in case, even before she has had a diagnosis. This gives the strong impression that the health service is on the ball, is super efficient and is doing everything it can to make sure treatment starts soon. However, I have spoken to women who are in a different situation. One woman I spoke to got the bad news and presented for the appointment the next day only to find out it was a consultation and no treatment would be administered. She had to wait six weeks before the first session of chemotherapy started. I know of many other people who were waiting longer for chemotherapy and treatment to start for serious cancers.

I have just left a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement at which representatives of the all-Ireland cancer research organisations gave very valuable information. They said that one of the key things that hampers their ability to research is the lack of a digital identifier for patients in the South. They are dealing with paper documents and they are unable to find out exactly what is happening to individuals with regard to their cancer treatments.


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