We respond to new cancer strategy for Northern Ireland
Wednesday 25 August 2021
We have welcomed the news that the National Cancer Strategy for Northern Ireland, which includes plans to improve earlier diagnosis and increase awareness of signs and symptoms of cancer, has been opened for public consultation today.
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Northern Ireland and the second biggest cancer killer. Every year around 1,100 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in Northern Ireland and around 400 people die from the disease. However bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early.
Cancer screening and diagnostic services were heavily disrupted during the coronavirus pandemic. The number of patients in Northern Ireland starting their first treatment for lower gastrointestinal cancers, which includes bowel cancer, within 62 days of an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer, was just 16.7 per cent in March, according to figures release by the Department of Health. This is a long way off the NI Government's target of 95 per cent. However, the vast majority of these delays are a result of waiting for diagnostic tests, as figures for March show that 90% of people with bowel cancer started their treatment within 31 days of being diagnosed.
The National Cancer Strategy includes some clear initiatives to improve earlier diagnosis of bowel cancer – such as optimising the bowel cancer screening programme in line with the UK National Screening Committee's recommendation, increasing awareness of signs and symptoms of bowel cancer and the development of new pathways for people with vague but concerning symptoms. The strategy also recognises that this needs to be supported by investment to modernise and develop the diagnostic workforce.
Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive at Bowel Cancer UK, said: "We welcome this National Cancer Strategy which sets a clear ambition so that everyone in Northern Ireland, regardless of where they live, has equal and timely access to the most effective diagnosis, treatment, support and person-centred cancer care. While it's vital that cancer services get back up and running, the strategy also allows time to consider doing things differently to ensure more people in the future survive their bowel cancer diagnosis.
"We'd encourage patients and clinicians who live in Northern Ireland to have their say on the future of cancer care by responding to the strategy during the consultation period."