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Cancer Services: Deterioration

Part of Opposition Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:00 pm on 18th October 2016.

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Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP 4:00 pm, 18th October 2016

I support the motion. Along with the others you have heard from, I add my concerns for the many people on waiting lists. Indeed, any delay in a cancer diagnosis has a significant impact on an individual, their family, their workmates and society as a whole. However, when our cancer services work, they can work well. In my case, I did that most unusual thing for a husband and listened to my wife, who told me that I had to go to my GP. The process for the investigation, diagnosis and surgery for my bowel cancer two years ago met all the NICE guidelines. While I understand that many have concerns about the level of care that they have received in hospitals, my care, which was delivered fully through the NHS, was first-rate. Indeed, I cannot praise the medical staff at my GP's surgery and Antrim Area Hospital, my consultant, Mr Burns, and my wife highly enough.

Based on feedback received from throughout my constituency, I am very conscious that many people feel that cancer care provision is not only limited in some areas but that there appears to be a postcode or even regional lottery in treatment and in the provision of drugs regimes. As British citizens, many people find it difficult to understand how medicines that are available in, say, Birmingham cannot be provided here. I am also concerned that levels of service between different trusts in Northern Ireland are demonstrably of concern. Indeed, some cancer sufferers living within 10 miles or so of two or three health trust areas will be even more frustrated.

As a party, we have called for a cancer strategy for Northern Ireland that is primarily based on prevention and on early diagnosis. The need for education and changes in people's lifestyles, with a healthier approach to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, is well recognised. However, it is to an approach to early detection that I wish to turn.

I welcome Mr Poots's earlier statements on Queen's University. Its Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology is a globally leading research centre. As well as looking at specific treatments for various cancers, it is also looking at how diagnostics can be improved. The Ulster University's globally leading Biomedical Sciences Research Institute, which is particularly looking at gene nutrient treatments, is similarly able to do diagnostics. Furthermore — as an MLA for South Antrim I cannot resist it — in Randox we have a great company that is implementing testing procedures to identify people at risk and the early stages of the disease. It is significantly boosting our global exports while it is at it, especially to the US, where it has achieved over £1 billion in sales this year. Unbelievably, Randox cannot sell any of its services to the health services in Northern Ireland. Those testing approaches may result in real benefits but I and many in Northern Ireland cannot understand why, with globally leading research centres and one of the globally leading diagnostic companies based here, the Health Minister is reluctant to take the initiative and set up a properly resourced cross-Northern Ireland cancer education and early cancer screening process.

We cannot continue with the current failing approach; we need to evolve our cancer care rapidly. We encourage our Health Minister to adopt, at the earliest opportunity, our policies for cancer education and early cancer screening, which are set out in our cancer care document dated March 2016. As added benefits, they would also help boost the position of our great universities and companies and would be truly transformational for all our citizens by providing more effective treatment for patients already suffering from cancer and, more importantly, by enabling us to prevent cancers from presenting or reoccurring.