‘We need new cancer strategy now’

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The SDLP health spokesman Mark H. Durkan has said it is vitally important a new cancer strategy for the North is put in place as a matter of urgency.

He was speaking after the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, said his department would commission a new stategy, the first in over a decade, imminently.

Whilst acknowledging the efforts of charities and Mr. Pengelly’s commitments, Mr. Durkan said that without ministerial approval the strategy, like many others, would fall by the wayside.

“The SDLP alongside cancer charities, patients and their families have fought hard to demand fair access to treatment- to demand parity with elsewhere in the UK,” said Mr. Durkan.

“It is entirely unacceptable that a cancer strategy for Northern Ireland has not been updated in over ten years- meaning recent innovations in cancer prevention, treatment and care cannot be implemented.

“Health chiefs here are working rigorously to develop a cancer strategy, however, the absence of a health minister will render nugatory the hopes of progress on this vital issue. Considering the predicted rise in cancer diagnoses coupled with a shortage of cancer specialists; establishing a long-term plan now is crucial,” he said.

Mr. Pengelly recently confirmed that discussions were planned with local cancer charity representatives on the commissioning of a new strategy and the potential development of a taskforce model.

But he said that decisions on the implementation of the new strategy would be for a future health minister.

Mr. Durkan said the continuing absence of a power-sharing Executive at Belfast was holding up important development that could make a huge difference to the many people suffering from cancer in Derry.

“Granted, the development of a cancer strategy is not a panacea but it provides a solid foundation for the department of health to build on,” said the Foyle MLA.

“We must cast the net wider and think bigger where tackling cancer is concerned- in particular, securing a medical school in Derry would let us prepare for the future of cancer care in NI by addressing resourcing issues which have long-beleaguered the department.

“Action on cancer demands immediacy- this state of inertia which is holding up a myriad of vital health strategies would not be tolerated anywhere else in the world.

“It should not be accepted here. Good intentions without action are broken promises. We can’t build a workable, effective cancer strategy on broken promises and people can’t survive on good intentions.

“Unlike our failed Executive, many cancer patients are not afforded the luxury of time. The political posturing of the DUP and Sinn Féin has delayed progress in many areas, we cannot allow the implementation of a cancer strategy to be another.”