Paula, who chairs the All-Party Group on Cancer at Stormont, stated: “It is extremely concerning that, among eighteen jurisdictions with similar statistical models and health systems, Northern Ireland has been lagging behind for improvement in cancer survival rates since 1995. This is all the more alarming because we know what other jurisdictions have been doing better.
“Top of the list is Denmark, which has developed five-year cancer strategies consistently over that time period and has seen dramatic improvements in cancer survival. England, with the same ‘NHS model’ as we have, is in the middle of the list. There is no reason we should not be doing far better even within current resources.
“One fundamental failing in Northern Ireland has been the stop-start nature of our devolved institutions, meaning that there has not been adequate scrutiny to ensure cancer strategies are not only developed, but are also consistent with on-going work and the latest available research and equipment.
“Denmark in fact demonstrated that increased specialisms, with treatment available at fewer locations but with the guarantee of world-class service and provision exactly as envisaged in the ‘Bengoa’ proposals, can and will work provided it is adequately scrutinised and communicated with the buy-in of all political parties.
“The further lesson from Denmark and elsewhere is that cancer strategies should not look too far forward, because treatment options can change so rapidly, but that subsequent strategies should be able to demonstrate how they are building on work already undertaken and lessons already learned to provide both for both modernisation and consistency.
“In Northern Ireland we have similar rates of cancer diagnosis to the rest of the UK, yet survival rates are slipping because we are not responding quickly enough. What we need is a political system which will ensure MLAs get to work and stay at work scrutinising our progress, and a health system committed to prevention and early intervention so that cancer survival rates improve at least to in line with the rest of Europe.”