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Northern Ireland news

North's political parties urged to commit to new strategy to tackle cancer

Cancer Focus NI’s chief executive Roisin Foster with the charity's new pledge urging political parties to help tackle cancer 
Jennifer Maloney

A NORTHERN Ireland cancer charity has urged the north's political parties to pledge their commitment to a new strategy to tackle cancer.

Cancer Focus Northern Ireland has launched its manifesto on the eve of World Cancer Day on Saturday, February 4 and ahead of next month's Assembly elections.

“We need a fresh vision for cancer here, and an end to the complacency that accepts poorer outcomes for local people," Cancer Focus NI’s chief executive Roisin Foster said.

"That is why we ask all parties to commit to a new cancer strategy, that has ambitious and measurable targets, and that will take the fight against cancer forward in Northern Ireland.”

Among the areas of concern raised in Cancer Focus NI’s Manifesto are:

:: Cancer cases are projected to rise considerably - by 2035 they are set to rise by 65% among men to 7,200 and by 63% for women to 7,000

:: Cancer waiting times have persistently failed to meet ministerial targets

:: Patients in Northern Ireland continue to be denied access to life extending cancer drugs that are available in other parts of the UK

:: A number of important public health initiatives have yet to be implemented, including minimum unit pricing of alcohol, and setting a target date to work towards achieving a ‘Tobacco Free Northern Ireland’

:: Public awareness of common signs and symptoms of cancer continues to be lower in Northern Ireland than in other developed countries

“Cancer Focus NI recognises the positive steps taken by the outgoing Assembly, including public consultations on banning smoking in cars carrying children, and further consultation on a reformed Individual Funding Request policy aimed at giving enhanced access to cancer drugs," Mrs Foster said.

"However, consultation alone does not equate to progress on the ground.”

She added: “We also wish to thank outgoing MLAs for the commitment given to the All Party Group on Cancer, ensuring cancer was never far from the Assembly’s radar. 

“Following on from the reconfiguration Health and Social Care agenda, the time is right to focus on aspiring for world class cancer outcomes. We have seen this approach in England through a new Cancer Strategy, people here deserve no less.”

Professor Mark Lawler, Queen’s University Belfast, said: “England, Scotland and Wales all have up to date cancer strategies, whereas the last Cancer Strategy in Northern Ireland was published in 2008.

“In the last nine years, there has been a step change both in our understanding of cancer and in how we prevent and treat this deadly disease.

“It is imperative that we develop a modern integrated cancer strategy, informed by research, innovation and best international practice - otherwise we risk undermining the excellent care that our healthcare professionals give under increasingly challenging circumstances to our patients.

“The lack of a strategic vision for cancer and its implementation is not acceptable - we must deliver for the citizens of Northern Ireland.”

Tracy Martin, from Banbridge, a cancer survivor and a patient advocate who lost her father, Brian Coburn, to the disease said: "The statistics on cancer diagnosis, survival and death due to this horrendous disease fill me with dread. 

“Around half of us will get cancer or be affected by it. I urge our politicians to make cancer their priority.

"Pledge to make a difference, and make it now. Get Northern Ireland back in line with the rest of the UK in its cancer treatments.”

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