Health service 'taking sticking plaster approach to cancer treatment'

Melanie Kennedy, cancer treatment campaigner, at Stormont, where she said the health service is taking a "sticking plaster" approach to cancer treatment in Northern Ireland
Melanie Kennedy, cancer treatment campaigner, at Stormont, where she said the health service is taking a "sticking plaster" approach to cancer treatment in Northern Ireland

The health service is taking a "sticking plaster" approach to cancer treatment in Northern Ireland, a campaigner said.

Melanie Kennedy, 41, from Bangor, Co Down, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 and crowd-funded to pay for drugs privately.

She met an influential Westminster committee of MPs on Monday and its chairman expressed shock at disparities in treatment between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Ms Kennedy said: "We need to start providing treatments that are available in other parts of the UK and the world, I would argue, so that people are living longer and surviving longer.

"We also need to invest in prevention and taking care of people after primary treatment so that maybe their outcomes are better and they don't re-present.

"Funding is dished out short term, everything is a sticking plaster approach really, trying to fix problems after they occur instead of thinking we may need this 10 years down the line, let's start planning for this now."

She started her campaign after she was initially unable to access the same drugs as patients from other parts of the world.

She added: "But then we were awarded this drug in the end and it has kept me here now for 18 months and very, very well.

"I ended up having the best scan results that I have had since this whole thing started on this drug.

"It just shows the absolute massive difference it makes to cancer patients."

She has founded a charity, the Northern Ireland Cancer Advocacy Movement, and urged Stormont's politicians to get back to work.

"Not only have they (services) stalled, they are getting worse, because there is nobody here guiding and leading us.

"Northern Ireland needs a cancer strategy, cancer is not going anywhere, it is only going to be on the increase and we need to stop having a short-term approach to it and have a long-term strategic plan so that we catch up with the rest of the world."

She said there was a massive shortage of staff in oncological and radiological services.

"An alarming amount of people are crowd-funding and self-funding to get treatment quicker because it is faster.

"It is becoming a two-tier system. I believe in the NHS and that is happening a lot faster than in other parts of the UK.

"We need to be having the same access to treatments as the rest of the UK, because prognosis and survival rates in Northern Ireland are definitely not as good as the rest of the UK and that would be part of the reason why."

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs travelled to Stormont to hear her account.

Its chairman, Andrew Murrison, said: "I am shocked by your account of the difference in quality of service you have received and that which would generally be expected in the rest of the UK.

"I think it is true to say, from what you have said today, that there are real concerns about that disparity."