Access to equal care for equal health needs is not a reality in this country. It is a fact that in Ireland, poorer people get sicker and die younger. People in disadvantaged communities are not only more likely to experience cancer, their outcomes for survival are not as good as those with higher incomes. In fact, cancer related deaths in the lowest occupational groups double those in the highest occupational group.
Inequalities in both incidences and survival rates of cancer are very stark in Ireland: Lung, stomach, mouth, head and neck and cervical cancers are all more common in areas of higher unemployment and lower levels of education; Men in areas with the poorest education levels have a 32% greater risk of lung cancer than men living in areas with the highest level, while women have a 23% greater risk; Men resident in the most densely populated areas have a 36% greater risk of stomach cancer than those resident in the least densely populated areas.
At a time when our health spending is decreasing at a faster rate than any other country in EU except Greece, SVP witnesses the daily struggle that excluded people face waiting for diagnosis and treatment in the public health system. We see the people falling through the cracks waiting for care and the impact this has on them and their families.
Yesterday the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul co-hosted the annual Irish Cancer Society Charles Cully lecture in Dublin where we called for action to close the health inequality gap. Access to health services should be based on need and not ability to pay. Fast tracked access should not be acceptable as it excludes those who have been disadvantaged by generations of exclusion. These people should not have to pay the price for poor health policy decision-making over many decades.
What does this say about the values underpinning our public health service? SVP has been lobbying for years for a more equitable model of health care delivery, but as long as thousands of adults and children continue to live in households which do not have enough for a minimum essential standard of living, they will continue to suffer poorer health outcomes as they simply cannot afford to access the treatment they need.
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