Foyle MLA Mark H. Durkan, has written to the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, asking him to urgently roll-out a new life-saving bowel screening test in the North.
The SDLP health spokesman was speaking after the health authorities in Britain confirmed the new faecal immunochemical test (FIT) will be added to the national bowel screening programme across the Irish Sea in the autumn.
The FIT test is prefered to the old guaiac-based test (gFOBT) that remains in use in the North for several reasons including higher uptakes across all demographics, including among poorer men.
Mr. Durkan said: “I find it extremely worrying that the Department of Health have not yet committed to introducing the FIT into bowel cancer screening here in Northern Ireland. I have received correspondence from CEO of Bowel Cancer UK, Deborah Alsina MBE, who shares my concerns on the delay of this programme.
“It has been two years since the UK National Screening Committee recommended the use of this life-saving test and considering that bowel cancer is one of the biggest cancer killers here, the Department’s oversight on this issue is unacceptable.”
The SDLP MLA said early detection was an important way of preventing deaths from a disease that causes too many avoidable deaths in the North and pointed out that FIT was deemed “significantly more accurate than the current programme”.
“I have written to the Permanent Secretary of Health, Richard Pengelly as a matter of urgency, to clarify the position and how the Department intends to progress on this vitally important issue. The earlier we can intervene on this issue, the more lives we can save. This is yet another issue where health care provisions in NI lag far behind its counterparts, in the absence of an Assembly. At the risk of repetition, the importance of a functioning Executive cannot be overstated - for many it is a case of life and death.”