Cancer recovery plan for Northern Ireland has to be delivered

This is the News Letter editorial on Friday, June 25.

Friday, 25th June 2021, 3:07 pm
News Letter editorial

That is the inescapable conclusion from new statistics showing that more than half of patients who received urgent cancer referrals from GPs in the first quarter of this year did not start treatment within the target of 62 days.

This is about much more than statistics though. When you have cancer, every single day counts and many of those who were waiting too long for a diagnosis or for treatment to begin during the pandemic felt like they weren’t the priority for the health service.

The focus on Covid-19 patients was of course understandable.

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But that shouldn’t have been an excuse for how people with other illnesses became sidelined. GP surgeries and hospital emergency departments almost became no-go zones, with people discouraged from attending because of the risk of coronavirus. Undoubtedly, that led to cancer diagnosis delays and lives ultimately being lost. Those lives are no less important than those who suffered with Covid-19 but at times it certainly felt like that, not just in Northern Ireland, but across the remainder of the UK too.

Shamefully, people needing urgent treatment for so-called red-flag cancers also experienced last minute postponements.

The blame for this doesn’t solely rest with the Department of Health and our healthcare leaders. For instance, minister Robin Swann inherited a shambolic and neglected health service when he first took over the most demanding portfolio at Stormont.

Mr Swann’s new cancer recovery plan, unveiled yesterday, certainly makes all the right soundings, but there is a risk that people think they have heard it all before. The detail looks excellent but the plan needs to be delivered.