Northern Ireland news

Urgent action needed to improve care for Northern Ireland patients, assembly told

Concerns about postcode lotteries and increasing waiting times were raised during a lengthy and at times heated debate at the Assembly on the deterioration of cancer services. Picture by Lynne Cameron, Press Association
Lesley-Anne McKeown, Press Association

URGENT action is needed to improve care for cancer patients in Northern Ireland, the Assembly has been told.

Concerns about postcode lotteries and increasing waiting times were raised during a lengthy and at times heated debate on the deterioration of cancer services.

There were also claims that additional funding to help cut waiting lists had been spent elsewhere.

Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said: "Last November, much was made of the additional £40 million that was secured in the monitoring rounds to specifically tackle waiting times; indeed, the then Minister, Simon Hamilton, claimed that it would allow an extra 10,000 to 15,000 operations and treatments to be progressed.

"It is with absolute exasperation, however, that the Ulster Unionist Party has now learned that £18.5 million of that £40 million was not spent on waiting lists and instead was redirected to plug the gap on other pressures in the health service.

"My party warned at the time that the trusts were not given enough time to use the money on waiting lists and, sadly, that appears to have come true.

"That is an absolute disgrace, and all those responsible for raising patients' expectations only for them to be later dashed should be ashamed of how they played politics with our health service."

The issue of cancer services was raised as part of the Assembly's second Opposition Day with many MLAs sharing personal experience of the deadly disease.

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said there was an "undeniable" variation in the level of care provided in different parts of the country.

He said: "There is no doubt that we can, we should and we must do better.

"This is not about politics, this is about people - we want to see changes that will provide a positive impact."

Meanwhile, Health Minister Michelle O'Neill accused Opposition MLAs of "scaremongering".

She said: "Allowing politically motivated misinformation to spread is bad for the health service and is demoralising for patients and for staff.

"I understand the worry and the concern that long waiting times can cause for patients and for families.

"Performance has not been strong enough in many many areas but I am committed to dealing with that problem because that's what you do in Government."

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