Breakthrough in access to cancer drugs for Northern Ireland patients
ACCESS to new cancer drugs in Northern Ireland is to be radically improved by the Department of Health - despite the absence of a minister.
For the past two years, charities and patients have lobbied Stormont as part a major campaign to extend 17 drugs that are available in England but not in the north for seriously ill patients, culminating in a 10,000 signature petition being submitted to government.
The Department is expected to announce today that a mechanism known as an "Individual Funding Request", which will be key in enabling patients to access innovative drugs, is to be reformed.
It is estimated that almost 700 people are currently being denied specific life-enhancing medications.
Alliance party MLA Paula Bradshaw, who was the former chair of the All Party Group on Cancer, welcomed the move.
"I know that there will be many individual campaigners and local cancer charities who will be just as delighted as I am at this news...I have joined their crusade and so this announcement today feels like such a relief, knowing how many patients will now have their lives extended through accessing new treatments.
Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan said it was an "important development for cancer patients".
"It is important that this development announced by the department is implemented in a timely manner and that cancer patients and organisations are engaged from the outset on the process.
"It is also important that patients suffering from non-cancer-related illnesses also have access to innovative medicines where safe and appropriate".