While progress has been made in the expansion of healthcare education in Cork, action must be taken to address to increase the number of radiation therapists in Ireland, a Fine Gael TD said.
Fine Gael Health Spokesperson and Cork North Central Deputy was speaking following the announcement by Minister Simon Harris that UCC was chosen to have a viable proposal for additional healthcare places in both existing and new programmes. These include increased number of places in medicine, nursing, dentistry and pharmacy.
Deputy Burke said: “While it is very welcome progress is being made to deliver additional places for doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists, and I thank Minister Simon Harris for his dedication and work on this issue, we must now ensure spaces are made available for these vital professionals in the area of radiation therapy.
“There is a 34% shortfall in radiation therapists across the country and as a result, four machines – which are extremely expensive – are not being used.
“Radiation therapists work at the coalface of cancer care and are the chief point of contact for patients undergoing radiotherapy treatment.
“The National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) predicts that radiation therapy will be required in 60% of all cancer cases, making it an essential component of most cancer treatment.
“I am calling for the number of training places for radiation therapists to be increased.,” Deputy Burke said.
“Currently, there are only 42 places available to study radiation therapy in Ireland, 30 of these are at Trinity College Dublin, while there are just 12 available at UCC.
“So, at a minimum, the number of places available to study this subject would need to be increased by 50% to just keep up with the estimated demand for radiotherapy services in the coming years.
“I have been informed that while Higher Education Institutions, such as UCC, would be delighted to take on more radiation therapy students, the main issue is with the training places on the HSE’s end.
“I am also calling for supports for those in these courses to be increased, for instance I propose that a bursary of €5,000 per annum be provided for the training of Radiation Therapists, similar to the scheme which is currently in place in UCC for the training of Diagnostic Radiography students where the participants are required to work for a period of two years after graduation with the HSE South/Southwest Hospital Group.”
Deputy Burke concluded: “Having only 42 places available is totally insufficient for the demand that is there. These dedicated professionals perform work that is both physically and emotionally challenging. Many are emigrating.
“We must work with the Department of Further and Higher Education Research and Science, the HSE and Higher Education Institutions to ensure that additional clinical placement hours are available to facilitate this increase.
“One possible interim solution to increasing the numbers coming into the profession would be to allow some clinical hours to be done virtually or on campus as opposed to in radiation therapy departments,” Deputy Burke added.