Northern Ireland

Cancer support staff and patients protest over Stormont collapse

The Stormont Assembly has been collapsed for more than a year amid DUP protest action against post-Brexit trading arrangements (PA)
The Stormont Assembly has been collapsed for more than a year amid DUP protest action against post-Brexit trading arrangements (PA)

Cancer support staff and patients have staged a demonstration at Stormont calling for the resumption of the Assembly.

Macmillan Cancer Support, along with more than 80 people living with cancer, held a demonstration at Parliament Buildings demanding that MLAs “get back to work” and take immediate action to address the health service.

They said they were “highlighting the frustration and anger” that people affected by cancer across the region feel at the lack of governance and the “destructive impact” this is having on the cancer care system.

The Stormont Assembly has been collapsed for more than a year amid DUP protest action against post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Senior civil servants with limited powers are leading government departments in the absence of locally elected ministers.

The latest cancer waiting times figures for Northern Ireland, released in September, were the third worst on record, with little over a third of people beginning their treatment on time following an urgent referral for suspected cancer from their GP.

Among those sharing their story at the event was Colleen McCallion, 43, from Bellaghy, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2022.

At her initial appointment five weeks after her mammogram, healthcare staff were concerned by her scans and she had further tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Ms McCallion later found out that she had two different types of breast cancer.

“I could have been waiting longer for my first appointment except for the fact that I was desperate to find out sooner and kept calling and calling to be seen. I eventually got a cancellation,” she said.

“Waiting for diagnosis and treatment had a real and serious impact on my mental health.

“You can only imagine what it’s like waiting. I know that some types of breast cancer are really fast developing and this thought was going through my mind constantly while I waited for news.

“I was always tearful and had sleepless nights with worry and anxiety. I was always worried with the long waiting times for appointments, if the cancer would spread. Thankfully it hadn’t. I was one of the lucky ones.”

Ms McCallion started her first treatment in November 2022 and she has been through surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

She says that she has been treated “brilliantly” by her local healthcare teams.

“The staff are absolutely terrific. It’s just that the waiting times aren’t good enough. It’s a government issue,” Ms McCallion said.

“MLAs need to go back to work as hospital waiting lists need to be urgently addressed.

“People’s lives are being put in real danger. If something as serious as cancer is detected early it can be very treatable and if not, it can be fatal.

“I’m here at Stormont today as I want to show my support for Macmillan for this very important cause.”

Sarah Christie, policy and public affairs manager at Macmillan Cancer Support in Northern Ireland, said the situation faced by people with cancer is “dire”.

“Enough is enough. MLAs have left cancer care in Northern Ireland to rot, and we are here today to ask, if over 80 people with lived experience of cancer can show up at Stormont, why can’t you?” she said.

“The situation faced by people with cancer in Northern Ireland is dire. They feel let down by the system every step of the way, and although healthcare professionals are working tirelessly to deliver the best care they possibly can,  there is no hope of improvement while MLAs have deserted their posts.

“We need MLAs to get back to work, resume governing and start to fix cancer care in Northern Ireland. The Cancer Strategy must be fully funded and implemented without delay.

“We are here today to directly ask MLAs: What are you waiting for?”

The charity is also asking the UK public to join its call to governments to act now, to make sure everyone with cancer gets the treatment they need, when they need it.

People can find out how to take action at