Dáil told cancer outcomes worsening because of Government underfunding

Tánaiste rejects Sinn Féin claims in Dáil that Ireland is a ‘laggard’ in treating disease

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has rejected claims that Ireland is a “laggard” in treating cancers after the Government was accused of failing to properly funding services, leading to worse outcomes for patients.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty told the Dáil that the HSE sought an extra €20 million to fund the national cancer strategy in this year’s budget but received zero. He said that radiation machinery was lying idle in hospitals due to staff shortages, and that surgeries were being cancelled as a consequence.

And he pointed to the Oireachtas Health Committee hearing on Wednesday where the Irish Cancer Society told TDs and Senators that cancer services had been underfunded for five of the past seven years, and that health outcomes “may have stagnated or even disimproved”.

The Donegal TD said that Taoiseach Simon Harris as minister for health “didn’t properly fund the cancer strategy in any of the years when he was minister and it has been underfunded in most of the years since”.


The Government refused the HSE the €20 million extra it sought for cancer services, Mr Doherty said. “You deliberately underfunded the health service with disastrous consequences for patient safety.”

But Mr Martin said the Government was entitled to look for value for money, adding that just because somebody asked for additional funding they could not simply agree to it for every agency or undertaking, without efficiencies.

He said the Government had made very significant investments in cancer services, with €7.7 billion extra provided to the HSE over the past four years. An additional €40 billion had been provided for new treatments and 148 new cancer drugs had been authorised.

He said 65 per cent of people diagnosed with cancer between 2014 and 2018 were still alive five years later, compared to 44 per cent 20 years earlier. “Our mortality rate for all cancers had dropped by 11 per cent over the past decade, with cancer of the trachea and lung down 19 per cent, and breast cancer dropping by 10 per cent.”

He said “the success of cancer strategies and the centralisation of cancer services, which many Deputies opposed at the time, are evident”.

Mr Martin added that when he was minister for health he had to “fight political battle after political battle across the country when centralisation as oncology services occurred”. But he said that probably was the “most impactful policy evolution” on cancer survival rates.

Meanwhile, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has separately said that there had been unprecedented levels of investment in cancer services in recent years.

He said the Government had fully funded the national cancer strategy over two-year period. However, he said that this year was “different” and that there “needs to be an additional focus this year on productivity”.

He said that “cancer survivorship rates in Ireland are going up and up and up”, that screening services were improving and that he was “having conversations with oncologists who are talking about the eradication of cervical cancer in our country”

The Minister said that the Government was increasing college places to fill key posts in cancer and other services and that his department and the HSE were also working on an international recruitment initiative.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent