Public patients could be much more likely to die from cancer because they have to wait up to 25 times longer than private patients for cancer tests.
Public patients 119 to 125 days on average for an MRI of the spine, musculoskeletal system or brain, whereas it’s less less than a week for private patients.
Private patients can access the ovarian or stomach cancer test in five days, while public patients could be waiting up to 80 days.
Donal Buggy, head of services and advocacy with the Irish Cancer Society, told Newstalk Breakfast this morning: “GPs are trying to do their very best for them (public patients). They’re trying to ensure that they get early access to diagnosis because they know that early access can be the difference between life and death.
“As we know, there are significant pressures on emergency departments. GPs are obviously and rightly worried about their patients in that instance.
“GPs are experiencing delayed investigations and referrals, and the primary difference between the patient population is ability to pay. Almost 90pc of GPs feel that ability to pay affects access.”
The Irish Cancer Society said there was a “striking differences” between access to treatment for a public patient compared to a private one – with longer waiting times cutting treatment options and affecting chances of survival for public patients.
A survey of GPs across Ireland found sometimes public patients have to wait up to 480 days for an ultrasound, 360 days for gastrointestinal tests such as colonoscopies, 280 days for an MRI and 240 days for a brain scan.
There is a 75 day difference between public and private patients’ waiting times for an abdominal ultrasound.
Less than half of Irish people have private health insurance, around 39pc have a medical card, and the rest of the country has no support for medical costs.
Mr Buggy said: “Four out of five family doctors have sent patients to an emergency department in an effort to bypass waiting times and this is obviously unsustainable,” he said.