Even further reductions to Donegal's cancer services in danger of becoming the 'new normal'

Fears expressed that cancer is fast becoming the 'forgotten C'

Cancer

Fears in Donegal and nationally that cancer is now the 'forgetten C'

Cancer is in danger of becoming the ‘forgotten C’ as many services in Donegal and across the country remain suspended and waiting lists grow.

The Irish Cancer Society has expressed grave concerns about the ‘new normal’ of reduced cancer services in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

Betty Holmes of Donegal Action for Cancer Care (DACC) is particularly concerned for cancer patients here in the county. She is also fearful that the message of early detection being crucial in cancer patient prognosis is being sidelined. 

“Cancer is time dependent,” said Ms Holmes. “People on waiting lists need to be seen now. This is a very serious health issue and all we are hearing about is Covid, Covid, Covid. 

“That is important too of course. But I am fearful that there is a bigger disaster coming for Donegal than a second wave of Covid-19.”

Ms Holmes is also questioning why money is being pumped into private hospitals, and more plans are being put in place in case private hospitals are needed for a second wave of Covid-19.

“Why is that money not being used to see people who are waiting on cancer screening? There is no reason why we can’t have social distancing for screening with everyone wearing masks and taking all necessary precautions.”

“We are told that breast screening will resume in September or October. Why not now? Why can they not take patients in one at a time, allocate them  45 minutes or an  hour. That leaves plenty of time to disinfect for the next patient and there is plenty of room for physical distancing.”

Breast screening is not the only service that has been suspended. Others include cervical check and bowel screening. 

In terms of delivering cancer treatment services, Saolta has publicly said that cancer patients are being treated in private hospitals in Sligo and Galway. However, Ms Holmes has been in contact with management at Saolta and Letterkenny University Hospital asking for numbers on the current waiting lists compared to at the end of 2019. This information has not been forthcoming and it is unclear how many of Donegal’s cancer patients are receiving treatment through these private facilities.

There is another serious concern which goes to the very core of DACC’s advocacy work.

Ms Holmes said: “We know of people from north Donegal who are undergoing cancer treatment in Galway. If they are setting off from Inishowen or Manorcunningham or Letterkenny they will have to stop and go in somewhere to go to the toilet. If they have prostate cancer they will need to stop a few times on the way to Galway.

“Because of Covid-19 it is very frightening for them to have to go in anywhere. They are frightened to stop off and they are frightened about having to go into the hospital in Galway.”

Since long before Covid-19 Ms Holmes and her DACC colleagues have been pointing out that the people of no other county have to face such lengthy journeys for treatment. 

These are people who are suffering from cancer and whose treatment could be making travel extremely uncomfortable. 

And most importantly, compromised immune systems are a well documented side effect of chemotherapy. To have people travel half way down the country for treatment, having to stop several times along the way seems incomprehensible in the context of a highly contagious, incurable virus pandemic. But that is the reality for cancer patients in Donegal.

Ms Holmes is calling on government, local politicians and health officials to not use Covid-19 as an excuse for failing Donegal’s cancer patients.

“It is not acceptable that cancer patients have to go through this, and it is not acceptable that they are being even further neglected now while Covid-19 is being used as an excuse for lack of services,” she said.

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