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Cancer Services: Deterioration

Part of Opposition Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:45 pm on 18th October 2016.

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Photo of Carla Lockhart Carla Lockhart DUP 3:45 pm, 18th October 2016

I support much of what my colleague has already said. Cancer is a thief and a home wrecker. It steals people away all too quickly, as we have heard so eloquently today. It is no respecter of age; it is a parasite and a plague on our society. Unfortunately, it has become a word that we all hear all too often, and it is often associated with children and the death of loved ones. However, we also hear about the victories against cancer, and that should be the message of today. We are encouraged by those victories. I do not defend the indefensible, but I congratulate, commend and encourage all the staff, consultants, nurses and scientists as well as all the charities that are involved day and daily in saving lives from this terrible parasite. Just recently, Paint the Town Pink, a fantastic event in my constituency raised thousands of pounds in an effort to save lives.

Today, I want to talk to people and reassure them. The motion, unfortunately, is specific to one cancer, which does a disservice to people throughout our Province who suffer from many different forms of cancer. For instance, it was brought to my attention recently that there is no robotic surgery for urology treatment, and I am working with the Minister to resolve that. I am very content that she recognises that there is a problem with prostate cancer treatment and is working to address it. With over one hundred forms of cancer and one in three people suffering, there is a very real need for a cancer strategy that will address the overall associated problems, be it waiting times or dealing with this epidemic.

I was very disheartened and somewhat surprised by the form that the motion took. Even the title, with its talk of deterioration, will strike fear, dread, concern and anxiety into women across the country who will see these figures, which, we have been told, are incorrect. It has whipped up hysteria around this. The motion also mentions the Southern Trust, which is most unfortunate. Craigavon Area Hospital, which is in my constituency, operates in the Southern Trust. It is a fantastic hospital that runs the Mandeville unit. I encourage anyone to look at the services that the Mandeville unit provides, and they will see clearly the excellent work that is ongoing. Members should realise that the figures are very specific to a time in the Southern Trust diary when one of its members — a leading consultant — passed away. Unfortunately, you cannot plan for that. I encourage people to be reassured that the trust is back to its 100% performance on its 14-day, red-flag targets for breast cancer referrals.

We are all too aware of the fact that Northern Ireland has areas of specific speciality, and it is difficult when there is movement of staff or, as I alluded to, illness or death. In fact, we are not dissimilar to the rest of the UK and Europe in that sense. My aim today, as I said, is to provide reassurance to the women who will have concerns from today: you will be seen by the Southern Trust, and, if you are in need of surgery, you will get it.

Amazing work has been going on and continues in Northern Ireland. Since the Campbell report in 1995, cancer treatment services and diagnosis have been nothing short of transformational, and that is very evident in the survival rates.

In fact, back in March, it was reported that over 54% of all cancer patients survived five years after diagnosis between 2004 and 2008, an improvement in comparison with 1993 to 1999, and it is improving in 2010 to 2014. You have to look at the improvements in bowel cancer since the bowel screening programme began in 2012. There is no doubt that there are more cases of cancer appearing in men and women, but we have the City Hospital and places like the Mandeville unit. My colleague referred to the radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin. We also have the cancer research lab that is doing amazing work.

The message today for the Minister is that there needs to be a wrap-around service for cancer. It is not that people are scathing of the service that they receive. Their concerns are the financial hardship, the travel costs and the counselling needed for children who lose their mums and dads early in life. That is the message that the Minister needs to hear.