Northern Ireland has launched its 10-year health strategy which aims to deliver “top-class outcomes” for people with cancer.
Health Minister Robin Swann said the aim was to ensure “equitable and timely” access to services for everyone, wherever they lived. However, he stressed that meeting the challenges depended on increased and sustained funding.
In an initial bid to improve services, two rapid diagnosis centres are being set up at Whiteabbey Hospital in County Antrim and South Tyrone Hospital in Dungannon later this year. These will treat patients with concerning symptoms who do not meet the criteria for a red flag referral.
The strategy sets out 60 recommendations to be taken forward over the next 10 years, with four key themes set out:
- Preventing cancer – reducing the growth in the number of people diagnosed with preventable cancers
- Diagnosing and treating cancer – improving survival rates
- Supporting people to live and die well – improving the experience of people diagnosed with cancer
- Implementing the strategy.
A funding plan sets out an estimated initial investment of about £2.3m in the first year, followed by about £145m a year when the strategy is fully in place. There is a further one-off capital investment of about £73m.
Paula Chadwick, chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, is pleased there is finally a strategy in place, but recognises there is a lot of hard work to be done to achieve it:
“It has taken a great deal of time and effort to get this cancer strategy this far, but the really hard work starts now.
As with the other three nations of the UK, Northern Ireland has a growing number of lung cancer patients who need faster diagnosis and timely treatment and a depleted and exhausted workforce also in desperate need of support.
Now is the time for action, not just words. This only comes with funding, stable government and leadership.”
Launching the strategy during a visit to the South Tyrone Hospital, Mr Swann stressed that addressing the challenges currently facing cancer services depended on “significantly increased and sustained funding”.
“Unfortunately, cancer services in Northern Ireland have historically been underfunded in comparison with other UK jurisdictions.
Regrettably cancer services were challenged before the pandemic and there continues to be significant capacity and workforce challenges across a range of areas. There is a need to move forward urgently to implement the actions outlined in this strategy to rebuild and transform our services in the short, medium and longer term.”