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Cancer Services: Deterioration

Part of Opposition Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:45 pm on 18th October 2016.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party 4:45 pm, 18th October 2016

I thank the Member for that intervention. It is clear that, in some cases, even attack has been seen as the best form of defence, because of the number of attacks that were launched, not just on the content of the motion but on the spirit in which it was brought. Any study of today's debate in Hansard will clearly show that it was the tone and content from the Government Benches that was less than conciliatory.

Kellie Armstrong spoke of the human impact from first-hand experience. I welcome her contribution and commend her courage.

Pat Sheehan said that every debate should be balanced and fair. We should be "judicious in our language" and refrain from trying to score political points. He then proceeded to a critique of the motion in language that was a wee bit less than judicious and certainly not short on political point-scoring. I sympathise, albeit belatedly, with Pat on the loss of his wife. I am sure that that is something that hurts greatly and always will.

The best way to improve the system is to work together, and that is precisely why the motion should be supported by everyone here.

Gary Middleton said that the Opposition cannot have it both ways: we cannot praise workers and criticise services.

I did not hear anybody saying that heads should roll. When it comes to having it both ways, perhaps the Member should cast his mind back to when a Minister from his party was trying to close care homes, and they were protesting outside them.

Carla Lockhart said that the motion was too specific to one form of cancer. I have never heard any motion opposed in here on the grounds of being too specific. Other parts of her contribution were excellent, and I concur entirely, particularly on the cancer strategy.

I will move on a wee bit. Many Members made many valid points; unfortunately, I do not have time to cover them all. The Minister said she was grateful for the opportunity to set the record straight. She is proud of those working in healthcare: I think what we have established today is that we all are. She said that the Opposition ducked responsibility by not taking the Ministry. Again, I will ask this: did her party duck responsibility in the South? She has promised to set out her vision for health and social care next week, and we look forward to that. We regret, however, that the public have not had time to read the Bengoa report in advance of her vision being made public. She outlined some of the undisputed good work being done in tackling cancer here. That is great, and we all want to see more of it. The Minister's attack on the motion, its proposer and its supporters was, in my opinion, ill judged. I am not going to get dragged into a slanging match with her. We will work with her and with others in transforming the health service, if she will let us, because, every day, we see and hear more compelling evidence that it needs to be transformed.

In conclusion, I would just like to ask this: which part of the motion are Members opposed to and voting against today? Members raised and, yes, the Minister addressed the Southern Trust figures, and she described them as unacceptable. The motion notes those "with anger"; maybe it should have been more in sorrow than in anger. We have said not that cancer services are deteriorating but that the crisis affecting them is. Is it not? Have we not to respond to that crisis?

We ask that the Assembly:

"accepts the importance of timely diagnosis and treatment of cancer, as any delay can reduce the likelihood of a successful outcome".

I have not heard anything today to suggest that the Assembly does not accept that fact. The motion says that this is:

"symptomatic of the wider unprecedented crisis engulfing the ... health service".

Yes, it is a crisis and, yes, it is unprecedented. Has there been a time before when there have been 400,000 people on waiting lists, regardless, Minister, of how that is computed? The Minister said that the problems facing cancer services, increased demand and workforce planning, are reflective of pressures right across the health and social care system. We ask the Minister to intervene. Will she not? Why are parties voting against the motion today? Now, that really is opposition for opposition's sake.