Cancer services in Northern Ireland

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Cancer Research UK wants to see improvements in cancer services throughout the UK. We commissioned the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow to explore the ‘state’ of cancer services in Northern Ireland.

The report, ‘Where next for cancer services in Northern Ireland?’, shows cancer outcomes in Northern Ireland have improved over recent years. Today, around 54 per cent of people diagnosed with cancer will live for five years after diagnosis. But outcomes could be better.

More people are being affected by cancer and services need to ready for further growth in the number of patients needing care. In 2014 around 8,900 people were diagnosed with cancer in Northern Ireland; our projection suggests there will shortly be over 10,000 cases a year.

Our research suggests services are currently struggling to meet rising demand. Performance against key waiting time targets, for example, indicates services are under stress.

Since 2008, cancer services in Northern Ireland have been guided by the Executive’s Cancer Control Plan. Much has changed since then. Our report calls on the Executive to reassess and bring forward an ambitious new cancer strategy that sets clear targets for improvement over the coming years.

A new Parliamentary term, and recently announced reforms to how healthcare is commissioned, mean there is an opportunity to define a new approach. A new strategy could set direction for the next several years and outline how cancer services will operate within the reformed health service.

The report also makes a number of recommendations to support improvement in cancer services. These include:

  • The Executive should conduct a review of diagnostic capacity, including direct access for GPs, and outline steps to ensure capacity can meet rising demand
  • The health service needs to develop national data sets for chemotherapy and radiotherapy activity. This would support ongoing evaluation of how services are performing.
  • The Executive should conduct a review of the cancer workforce. Ideally this would cover the whole cancer pathway, identify workforce gaps and specify actions to alleviate these pressures.

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