An MLA who has battled bowel cancer over recent years has urged men not to be embarrassed to report their symptoms to a doctor.
Jimmy Spratt, who, almost two years ago, was diagnosed with the disease, led a Stormont debate yesterday which urged the Health Minister to screen more people for bowel cancer.
The DUP MLA told MLAs that he had “three serious critical operations over the past 20 months” and found that “our Northern Ireland hospitals and health service are second to none”.
The South Belfast representative said it was crucial to get over embarrassment about discussing bowel problems.
He told the Assembly: “I have to say that it is really tragic that so many people lose their lives every year simply because they are too embarrassed to broach the subject. In many cases, it is men who find themselves in that position.”
Mr Spratt urged people to visit their doctor if they suffered bleeding from the rectum, a change in bowel habit that lasts three weeks or more, unexplained weight loss, extreme tiredness for no obvious reason; or a pain or lump in the stomach.
There was support for Mr Spratt’s “bravery” from around the chamber. Party colleague Gordon Dunne said it was “great to see [Mr Spratt] looking so well” while NI21 MLA John McCallister said Mr Spratt was to be “commended” for speaking publicly.
SDLP MLA Sean Rodgers, who himself overcame cancer, said that after diagnosis “at times you’re planning your funeral... until you say ‘I’m going to fight this’”. He said that men were often not inclined to discuss their health but the debate could help reduce stigma about the issues.
Health Minister Edwin Poots said that he would consider reducing the age at which screening starts to 50.