Doctors warn of gaps in cancer data and wait times. “It’s diabolical”

No one knows for sure how long it takes for each patient to have surgery for a serious oncological condition, healthcare professionals warn. “This has an impact on treatments,” they warn. The ERS confirms that there is an issue with user registration and has even issued recommendations. But the situation remains unresolved

“The government must have quality information, because only then can it manage things and act correctly. this time problem [de espera] It’s swampy for me”, warns Vítor Rodrigues, president of the Center region of the Portuguese League against Cancer (LPCC), explaining that there are currently several flaws in the data on cancer and on the expected time to be operated. At stake are the so-called “maximum response times guaranteed” (TMRG) which are set on the basis of clinical criteria and which indicate the waiting time not to be exceeded in order to have access to oncological surgery.

On the one hand, these waiting times presented on an SNS platform for this purpose do not provide a series of information that experts consider essential, such as indicating whether the periods intended for pre-surgical treatments are included in this same time, as happens, for example, in some prostate cancers, where radiotherapy is needed to reduce the size of the tumour.

“We need to know whether the operating times are influenced by whether or not you are following therapy,” explains Vítor Rodrigues, who points out that this lack of detail has an “emotional” impact on cancer patients, especially when they are realize that they have long periods. before them weeks of waiting and who do not always have the possibility of using the private service – the alternatives are only two: either wait to be operated on in the public health service, or pay to have an operation in private.

ERS says it is attentive to the situation

In February, and on the occasion of World Cancer Day, the Minister of Health Marta Temido said that the number of cancer patients operated on had increased by 19% compared to 2019 and that the average waiting time for enrolled patients had fallen to 34 days.

However, more recent data are scarce. The information presented by the General Directorate of Health on the Tempos website does not mention the precise period to which the dates presented refer, the Transparency Portal does not clarify the data concerning oncological surgeries and the latest data from the Annual Report – Access to health care in SNS Establishments and Conventional Entities of the Central Administration of the Health System (ACSS) refer only to 2020.

The lack of up-to-date information on oncology in Portugal is, for the doctor and professor Vítor Rodrigues, one of the main problems of the moment, and the fault can be either in the management of what is given by the hospitals, or with what the hospitals themselves report on wait times.

“In this area, and in particular in the field of oncology”, the ERS itself “has been confronted with the existence of several problems concerning the way in which data relating to consultation requests and surgical interventions are identified and recorded by health care professionals and institutions”. “.

For this reason, the organization “has issued a recommendation to the Ministry of Health, to the central administration of the health system, IP and to the shared services of the Ministry of Health, concerning compliance with the legal and regulatory framework of the deadlines for guaranteed maximum responses”. ”, The Health Regulatory Entity (ERS) advanced in writing to CNN Portugal.

However, the entity itself only makes available on its website the monitoring of waiting times in the SNS with data for 2019 and when responding to CNN Portugal it did not indicate any more recent document, since , she admitted, “in this context, ERS has chosen not to publish more recent results at this stage, although of course it continues to monitor the situation closely”.

In May, the ERS issued the Recommendation to establishments providing primary and hospital care of the SNS within the framework of the Guaranteed maximum response times, which emphasizes the need “to record all information concerning the course of the user who allow the control, fully and with accuracy” of the TMRG both in consultation and in surgery, but with a focus on cancer and heart disease, which reflects the existence of a problem of waiting times .

For Vítor Rodrigues, the information given is scarce. “We are working on information that is not correct”, which has a direct impact on the performance of doctors and on the treatments themselves. “It’s diabolical, you have to have quality information,” he says.

The National Cancer Registry, the expert says, would be the place to get accurate information about the state of oncology, but so far there are gaps. CNN Portugal tried to contact representatives of this organization, but without success, as happened with attempts to obtain information from the website itself.

“There were big promises with the National Cancer Registry (RON), but the only one that did was a report in 2018 and with errors”shoots Vitor Rodrigues.

Luís Costa, president of the College of Oncology of the Ordem dos Médicos and director of the oncology service of the Santa Maria Hospital, also guarantees that “where it is possible to have more precision” with regard to the data is in the RON. “Then it is possible to check from the date the user had a biopsy and you can see how long it took between deciding on the operation and the operation to be performed”. But this information has not been public or updated for four years. “There should be reports with a certain periodicity which allow the evaluation of these indicators”, he pleads.

In view of all this confusion of data, there is still a discrepancy between some of the waiting times presented by the official platform of the Ministry of Health and the data that hospitals say are real. There are cases where the situation is extreme. This is the case of the São Teotónio hospital, in Vise, for example.

The Tempos site indicates that surgery with a diagnosis of neoplasia involves a wait of 175 days, while patients should only wait 60. But the Viseu hospital itself guarantees that the real waiting time is 44 days, within clinically acceptable limits. At present, an official hospital source told CNN Portugal, “29 patients proposed for surgery, with a diagnosis of neoplasia and an average waiting time of 44 days.”

As for maxillofacial surgery, the same problem: the platform indicates that in April the waiting period is 352 days, while the hospital claims to have “19 patients registered in LIC with an oncological indicator and a waiting period of average wait of 35 days”. days”.

This whole question that explains the lack of information on the expected time for an oncological operation in Portugal is, for Vítor Rodrigues, one of the problems that he must urgently solve. But when asked what’s going on with this whole wait time data thing, he says, “They’re pinpointing one of the wounds.

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