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IAPC Welcomes the Publication of the National Cancer Strategy 2017-2026

July 6th, 2017

National Cancer Strategy 2017-2026

Minister for Health, Simon Harris, launched Ireland’s ambitious new ten-year National Cancer Strategy, following its approval by Government on the 5th July 2017.

The National Cancer Strategy 2017 – 2026 is focussed on preventing cancer across our population, diagnosing cancer early, providing optimal care to patients and maximising their quality of life.

The Strategy sets out four goals:

  • Reduce the Cancer Burden;
  • Provide Optimal Care;
  • Maximise Patient Involvement and Quality of Life; and
  • Enable and Assure Change.

Launching the Strategy, Minister Harris said “There are very few families in Ireland that have been untouched by cancer, and, sadly we are all too aware of the hardship, pain and loss it can bring. It is a challenge that we all must face together as a country. Great strides have been made under the current National Cancer Strategy, in relation to improved surgical, radiation and medical oncology services, rapid access clinics and cancer screening. This progress has resulted in improved outcomes for patients and better survival rates. Now we must take the next step.”

Key recommendations in the Strategy include:

  • HSE’s National Cancer Control Programme to develop a cancer prevention function in conjunction with the broader Healthy Ireland initiative;
  • Appropriate endoscopy capacity to be provided in hospitals to allow for the expansion of BowelScreen to all aged 55-74 by end 2021;
  • Development of a plan to enhance the care pathways between primary and secondary care for specific cancers;
  • HSE’s National Cancer Control Programme to develop referral criteria to ensure that GPs have direct access to cancer diagnostics within agreed timelines;
  • The appointment of a National Lead for Cancer Molecular Diagnostics for solid and liquid malignancies;
  • An age appropriate facility to be designated for adolescents and young adults with cancer within the new children’s hospital;
  • Links between cancer services to be strengthened, facilitated by the appointment of a National Clinical Lead in Geriatric Oncology;
  • Cancer consultants and Advanced Nurse Practitioners to have protected time to pursue research interests in their new posts;
  • Appointment of a National Clinical Lead for Cancer Nursing to support practice and research;
  • HSE’s National Cancer Control Programme to develop, publish and monitor a programme of national quality healthcare indicators for cancer care, in line with international standards.

Key recommendations in relation to Palliative Care are as follows:

  • The NCCP will appoint a National Clinical Lead for Psycho-oncology to drive the delivery of networked services;
  • Each designated cancer centre will establish a dedicated centre to address the psycho-social needs of patients with cancer and their families. This will operate through a hub and spoke model, utilising the MDT approach, to provide equitable patient access;
  • Designated cancer centres will have a sufficient complement of specialist palliative care professionals, including psycho-oncologists, to meet the needs of patients and families (such services will be developed on a phased basis to be available over seven days a week);
  • Oncology staff will have the training and education to ensure competence in identification, assessment and management of patients with palliative care needs and all patients with cancer will have regular, standardised assessment of their needs;
  • The HSE will oversee the further development of children’s palliative care to ensure that services are available to all children with a life limiting cancer.

The Minister said “The burden of cancer on individuals and on society will grow, unless significant progress is made on improved prevention, early diagnosis and treatment. The number of cases of cancer in Ireland is expected to increase by 50% in men and 40% in women by 2025, and to nearly double by 2040. This Strategy sets an ambitious target and we aim to be in the top quartile of European countries for cancer survival by the end of the Strategy period. Cancer prevention offers the most cost-effective, long-term approach for cancer control. In fact, 30-40% of cancers are avoidable through improved diet, more exercise, reduced alcohol intake, limited exposure to ultraviolet radiation and of course not smoking.”

The Minister added “If we are to reach our targets then early diagnosis of cancer is vital. Cancer screening plays a crucial role in reducing the treatment interventions needed and in achieving successful outcomes.  The new Strategy recommends the continued expansion of cancer screening. BreastCheck, which currently covers women aged 50-64 years of age, is being expanded to women of 65 to 69 inclusive, and the expansion of BowelScreen over time to all aged 55-74 is also recommended. The new Strategy also aims to ensure that patients receive the required care, in a timely fashion, from an expert clinical team in the optimal location.  It recommends the expansion of radiation and medical oncology, as well as the concentration of surgical services in the designated centres.”

Minister Harris said he was particularly glad to see that the patient voice had been an integral part of the development of the new Strategy, “there are currently about 150,000 cancer survivors and this number will grow as cancer incidence grows and treatments improve. As this Strategy was developed the Cancer Patient Forum provided strong, informed patient input. This has proved to be invaluable in producing a strategy that is responsive to the needs of patients now and into the future. Patient involvement will continue with the establishment of a Cancer Patient Advisory Committee, involving patient representatives in policy making and planning. Today I would also like to thank the members of the Cancer Strategy Steering Group for their dedication to this work and Professor John Kennedy, Chairman of the Group in particular for his tireless leadership and his insight during this process.”

The full Strategy is available at