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Agriculture minister Edwin Poots would like to see 'a greater level of focus on other conditions' amid Covid pandemic

Edwin Poots posted a photograph on Twitter as his resumed his ministerial role

STORMONT minister Edwin Poots has said he would like to see "a greater level of focus on other conditions" amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The 55-year-old DUP MLA, who returned to his Agriculture post earlier this month following cancer surgery, said he has fears for the number of missed cancer diagnoses due to the pandemic.

The Lagan Valley assembly member, who was diagnosed with kidney cancer in January, was speaking yesterday about his own personal experience.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback, Mr Poots said it was "six weeks today I was still on the operating table but I came through the operation and have recovered very well and I'm delighted that is the case.

"I wish that was the case for many other of our citizens and indeed I have close friends right now who are suffering from cancer and we just hope for the best for them and pray for their recovery," he said.

Revealing he had been a "red flag" case, said his NHS experience had been "very good".

"Whenever I initially was diagnosed, I was told there was around 30 people on the waiting list and then whenever I had my consultation, it was down to 16," he said.

"Thankfully, the Ulster Hospital opened up a number of additional appointments and they were able to complete the surgeries that allowed me to get done.

"Every speciality is different. Obviously, I didn't need intensive care treatment after surgery and that was something as well because intensive care beds is a big problem."

Mr Poots said he had raised the issue of delayed cancer diagnoses with Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride as far back as August when there were around 900. He said this rose to 1,200 in the autumn and now it is around 1,600.

"Delayed diagnoses meet the worst outcomes," he said.

"Delayed treatments lead to worse outcomes. When you add the two together, then that for me causes real concern as to our cancer care and the outcomes that will be anticipated for 2021 and 2022."

He said 4,500 lives had been lost to cancer in 2019 and fears that due to the impact of the pandemic will "rise quite dramatically in 2021 and 2022".

Mr Poots said he would like to see a "greater level of focus on other conditions" amid the ongoing pandemic.

"We need out frontline services to be actually seeing members of the public," he said.

He said restrictions placed on dentists had also raised concerns about "oral cancers being missed".

Mr Poots also questioned why the City Hospital had been chosen at the site for the Nightingale Hospital as it was "probably never more than around one sixth full" and so "it took a lot of theatres and capacity out as a consequence of that."

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