Limited progress with NI cancer strategy, say charities

Charities have said there has been limited progress in delivering top-class outcomes for cancer patients in Northern Ireland.

This comes a year after the publication of Northern Ireland’s long-awaited cancer strategy.

Last March then Health Minister Robin Swann said improvement depended on increased, sustained funding.

The 2022 strategy took a decade to pull together with much input from clinicians, patients and charities.

Its aim is to deliver timely and equitable care to all patients across Northern Ireland.

Published when there was a functioning government, it was widely recognised that its success depended on recurrent and sustainable funding.

However, without a government that has not happened and charities say opportunities are being lost.

‘Redundant strategy on the shelf’

When the strategy was published, the charity called for long-term investment, joined-up working and strong governance to ensure its delivery.

Without a functioning assembly at Stormont, none of these calls are being met, said Sarah Christie of Macmillan Cancer Support.

“One year on we should be thinking about the difference a year can make,” she said.

“Instead, without an assembly in place, we’re looking at yet another redundant strategy on the shelf.”

‘Get back to work’

Initial investment of £2.3 million has allowed the opening of two diagnostic centres at Whiteabbey Hospital and the South Tyrone Hospital in Dungannon.

The charity Cancer Focus expressed frustration at the delay and has demanded an urgent commitment from all political leaders to guarantee the recurring funding necessary to deliver the strategy’s recommendations.

Chief executive Richard Spratt said the strategy had huge potential for cancer prevention and for tackling health inequalities.

“Our concerns are reinforced by the frustrations expressed by local patients and their families,” he said.

“Cancer Focus NI is keen to support the Department’s efforts to meet its cancer waiting times targets.

“However, we’ve seen yet another year where the Department of Health is playing catch up to its own set targets.

“Each missed deadline represents the life of a real person experiencing further undue stress, losing out on the opportunity to have their cancer identified and treated in an optimal timeframe that could see their chances of survival improve.

“Cancer patients and their families deserve much better.”

Macmillan’s Sarah Christie added: “We need an assembly and we need investment. How many more ways can we say it?

“We need courage and strong leadership from elected representatives to get back to work to navigate the challenges in our health service and made the long lasting change that improves cancer care for people in every part of Northern Ireland.”


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