The political stalemate at Stormont should not be “used as an excuse” for the failure to draw up a cancer strategy for Northern Ireland, a DUP MP has said.
Paul Girvan made the comments after new figures showed waiting times for cancer treatment are now the worst on record.
The waiting time statistics, published on Wednesday, showed that only 61.8% of patients began cancer treatment within two months of an “urgent” referral by a GP.
That is the lowest percentage found in any of the Department of Health’s monthly cancer waiting time statistics, dating back to April 2010.
The target is for 95% of cancer patients to begin treatment within two months of an urgent referral.
The charity Cancer Research UK says a cancer strategy is needed for Northern Ireland – something that is already in place for every other UK region.
The last cancer strategy for Northern Ireland was produced in 2008.
England is around halfway through a five-year cancer strategy, which includes upgraded radiotherapy machines, extra staff and new diagnosis targets.
In Scotland, a £100m cancer strategy was introduced in 2016 and Wales is in the final two years of its 2016-2020 ‘cancer delivery plan’.
Mr Girvan believes there is no reason the Northern Ireland civil service can’t move forward with an updated cancer strategy of its own, despite the lack of a health minister to sign off on any plan.
“These sorts of strategies must move with the times. Technology changes, medicines change and we must have a health service which is flexible enough to move with the times,” he said.
“We need an updated strategy. Waiting times are crucial because, as we all know, the faster you respond the better the prognosis with all sorts of different types of cancer.
“Legislation was introduced at Westminster in November which enabled permanent secretaries to take decisions which are not controversial. And let’s be honest, I don’t see how anyone could say that we should not be investing in this area.”
Mr Girvan added: “The lack of a minister should not be used as an excuse not to move ahead with a cancer strategy for Northern Ireland.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said it will “revisit the previous minister’s commitment to consider the need for a new regional cancer strategy for Northern Ireland” in light of the new powers introduced for the civil service in November.