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Editorial: Cancer patients cannot wait

When a new cancer strategy for Northern Ireland was published 12 months ago, then health minister Robin Swann spoke of the imperative to move forward urgently to transform services.

Years in the making, the strategy set out 60 recommendations to improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment and support for a devastating disease that will strike one in every two people during their lifetime.

The cost was estimated at around £2.3m in the first year and around £145m annually when all actions are implemented, as well as a one-off capital investment of £73m.

It was widely welcomed at the time but there were also warnings that a functioning executive was essential to ensure the funding and political leadership to deliver its objectives.

While some progress has since been made, including the opening of 'rapid diagnosis centres' in Newtownabbey and Dungannon, there is still no devolved government and the Macmillan cancer charity has said there is a risk of becoming “yet another redundant strategy on the shelf”.

The stakes could not be any higher. Figures released in January showed all targets for cancer waiting times being missed, with the second half of 2022 being the worst on record.

Each of those statistics of course represents a real person with very real fears about the consequences of delays to diagnosis or treatment.

One patient with stage four cancer has publicly warned of the “grave repercussions” if the DUP does not act to restore an executive that can take forward priorities such as the cancer strategy.

Amanda Steele (43) said while her own experience with the NHS had largely been positive, she is worried for those still waiting for a diagnosis.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, whose party this week voted against the Stormont brake element of the Windsor Framework, reiterated that it was not returning to Stormont while it seeks further changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He did so despite the almost universal chorus of voices in politics, business and wider society appealing for the DUP to abandon its futile boycott and work with others inside a power-sharing government.

A poll carried out on behalf of the Irish News-Institute of Irish Studies-University of Liverpool also found that almost half of DUP supporters believe it should now get back into the assembly and executive, with only 14 per cent disagreeing.

The people paying the price of this protest action are the most vulnerable in society and they cannot afford to wait any longer.

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