Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Cancer Services: Deterioration

Part of Opposition Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 18th October 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance 3:30 pm, 18th October 2016

I have thought very hard about how to respond to the motion today, because it deals with an extremely important and emotive subject. I start by confirming that the Alliance Party supports the motion but with reservations, because, as we have heard, the figures provide a snapshot. I also declare an interest, because I completely and totally hate cancer. I detest the disease in all its forms. Cancer causes pain and suffering and, in many cases, ends lives. I support the fight against cancer and have taken part in Race for Life events here in Stormont and raised funds for research.

I am extremely thankful that, in 2015, Cancer Research UK confirmed that more than 50% of people diagnosed will survive their cancer for more than 10 years; an all-time high. More people are surviving, and thank goodness for that. It is down, in quite a large part, to the staff who work in our hospitals to protect and care for people who are diagnosed with cancer, and their families, at a time when they are at their most vulnerable.

The motion talks about the crisis affecting cancer services, but we should not forget the people, the human beings, affected by cancer, including the almost 400,000 people on waiting lists and those who sometimes fail to receive early diagnosis. I thought I would share a quick story about what it is like to live without early diagnosis. In this case, a woman started to feel unwell around her 40th birthday and was back and forward to her GP on many occasions, a scenario that others have highlighted. The GP checked her and could not find out what was wrong. She was losing a lot of weight — not pounds but stones — without dieting.

Over the following couple of years, her eyesight blurred and her appetite left her. That person was in pain and was scared. She was frustrated and worried about her family and her children. She felt that she was not being listened to, that she was being dismissed and that she was not important; and she was angry. She was in and out of hospital, and her family were worried sick for her. The diagnosis finally came. The consultant called her husband to the side and confirmed that she had cancer. He told her husband that it was so advanced that she had days rather than weeks to live and that he should prepare for her funeral. That was on the Tuesday; she died on the Saturday, the day before her 43rd birthday. Her name was Geraldine McGrattan and she was my mum.

I know first-hand the impact that cancer has on the person and on their family. Cancer can kill, but waiting for a diagnosis or being on a waiting list is torturous and unacceptable. The Minister confirmed that it is unacceptable: she knows that. If we are to receive swift, safe and sustainable healthcare to ensure patient safety and patient treatment, I urge the Minister to ensure that the expected cancer services framework includes a mechanism to systematically reduce waiting times and stringently monitor lists to ensure they do not increase to the levels we have today, where one fifth of our population are on waiting lists. We are all affected by cancer.