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In Northern Ireland almost 10,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year – more than 26 people every day. The average number of cancer cases per year increased by 8% from 9,125 cases in 2011-2015 to 9,843 cases in 2016-2020. These increases are largely due to the ageing population. Although cancer survival is improving, with 56% of patients surviving for five years or more, survival in Northern Ireland still lags behind other comparable countries around the world.
Each year Cancer Research UK spends around £2 million in Northern Ireland on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research. More progress is necessary as one in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime.
Health is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland. This means decisions for NI are made locally.We work closely with the Department of Health, Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland Cancer Network and Health and Social Care Trusts to help make cancer services the best they can be, and we engage with the Northern Ireland Executive and members of the NI Assembly to keep cancer high on the political agenda.
In Northern Ireland Cancer Research UK has:
- 2023: We are members of the Cancer Strategy Programme Board and subgroups, including the cancer data steering group, the cancer research strategy steering group and the workforce steering group.
- 2022: Significant participation in the development and roll out of the first two Rapid Diagnostic Centres (RDCs) in Northern Ireland. Based at Whiteabbey and South Tyrone Hospitals, they provide a much-needed vague symptom referral pathway. We are active members of the RDC working group and continue to lobby for expansion of this service to additional areas.
- 2020: Significant participation in the development of the new 10- year Cancer Strategy for Northern Ireland, working as part of the strategy’s core steering group, chairing the sub-group on cancer diagnosis and screening, and making sure cancer patients voices were heard.
- 2019: Influenced decision by the Public Health Agency to change the test for bowel cancer screening programme to FIT and to change to the HPV test in for cervical screening.
- 2018: Participated in the Oncology Service Transformation Project, focusing on workforce adjustments to achieve a clinically led but medically delivered service, compared to current primarily clinically delivered service.
The World Health Organisation recommends that every country should have a cancer strategy regardless of resource constraints.
Since 2015, we have been campaigning for Northern Ireland to have a cancer strategy with clear, measurable targets, appropriate leadership and sufficient and sustainable funding to achieve much-needed transformational change in the delivery of cancer services.
A long-awaited 10-year cancer Strategy for Northern Ireland was finally published in March 2021. Cancer Research UK played a leading role in the development of the new strategy, working as part of the strategy’s core steering group, chairing the sub-group on cancer diagnosis and screening, and making sure cancer patients voices were heard loud and clear.
We welcome the ambitious recommendations in the plan with the aim of closing the survival gap and helping more people survive the disease. We also welcomed the funding plan published along with the strategy and the allocation of multi-year funding in the Executive’s draft budget. It is of great concern that progress on implementing actions within the cancer strategy is being delayed due to the lack of a functioning Executive.
This lack of progress on the strategy is set against a worsening situation in cancer services. Covid had an impact, but the service was struggling long before that. Every day that we don’t invest in the health service we fall further behind and will have further to go to implement the strategy. CRUK is calling for urgent action on three fronts:
- Investment in current services to provide timely services in diagnostics and access to treatment.
- Service transformation that only a fully funded cancer strategy can bring: to reduce inequalities in cancer, to be able to recognise and quickly implement new opportunities, to build a strong data-led research culture, and to have world-class services delivered by world-class staff.
- Investment in a multi-skilled, future fit cancer workforce.
We participated in the steering groups to set up Rapid Diagnostic Centres (RDCs), initially designed to speed up diagnosis for patients with vague but worrying symptoms. We will contribute to the next phase of RDCs, applying similar programme design to the diagnosis of specific cancer types where the need is greatest.
The research environment in Northern Ireland is experiencing financial and policy challenges. Basic researchers are struggling to compete for funding from the UK and EU sources. Additionally, workforce shortages and infrastructure issues in Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care (HSC) Trusts are impacting on the clinical research opportunities available to patients. Despite this, there are examples where, through supporting areas of research strength, researchers are successfully attracting major funding. It is crucial that those involved in research continue to refine this focus, drawing on potential collaborations between universities, the HSC and Northern Ireland’s life science industry, to create world leading areas of excellence.
Cancer Research UK recommends:
- The Department of Health must progress action 55 of the cancer strategy: to develop a Cancer Research Strategy for Northern Ireland in partnership with key stakeholders, which puts research at the heart of HSC culture and practice.
- The Department of Economy and the Department of Health must work together to enable Northern Ireland’s universities, industry, the HSC and the third sector work collaboratively to create a competitive and successful research environment.
CRUK in Northern Ireland
£2 million invested in cancer every year.
198 people volunteered in 17 shops with a turnover of over £2million.
33 local groups and supporters raised £195k.
430 supporters have pledged to leave a gift in their will.
The Business Beats Cancer Board in Belfast has raised more than £50k since 2018.
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