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Access to Diagnostics Used to Detect Cancer dependent on ability to pay 

– New research by Irish College of General Practitioners and the Irish Cancer Society

The Irish Cancer Society commissioned this in-depth quantitative survey among GPs to establish GP experience and perception in relation to accessing diagnostic services for suspected cancer cases with a focus on inequities at the primary care level.


Evidence suggests shorter diagnostics waiting times can impact positively on earlier stage cancer diagnosis; however problems relating to the speed or lack of access to the relevant tests exist, particularly for public patients.

The report by Ms. Marié T O’Shea and Dr Claire Collins

  • Establishes GP experience with regard to access to relevant diagnostic tests and waiting times for public and private patients.

  • Documents GP perception on how access and waiting times impact on the delivery of a quality GP service.

  • Gathers information on possible reasons for delays and solutions in the GP’s opinion

  • 88.5% of GPs surveyed said that ability to pay affected a patient’s access to referral services.

  • The report shows that public patients face waits of up to 480 days for important tests used to diagnose cancer. 


The Irish Cancer Society has said it highlights a striking difference in access to tests for cancer between the public system and the private system. 


General Practitioners cited unacceptable delays across a number of areas, but highlighted tests for gynecological, neurological, urological and head and neck cancers, as particularly problematic. For example, waiting times for MRI brain scans were estimated to be on average 20 times higher in the public system than the private, while the difference in average waiting times between public and private systems for abdominal and pelvic ultrasounds is 70 days.


The report recommends number of practical solutions that may ensure earlier diagnosis of cancer.  This includes:

  • Making access to more tests available to people in their communities

  • Improved information sharing

  • New guidelines for referral for cancer tests

  • The development of cancer symptom awareness campaigns which would encourage patients to present earlier

  • Making electronic referral the standard method of GP referral for suspected cancers and promoting the use of ‘e-referral’ among GPs”


Donal Buggy, Head of Services and Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society said: "The grim reality of our health care system is that the difference between life and death can come down to your ability to pay for healthcare." 


(uploaded 13.06.16 )

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