Ulster Unionist health spokesperson Roy Beggs MLA has welcomed the announcement that the Department of Health is to commission a new cancer strategy for Northern Ireland but has warned that the ongoing absence of a minister will “inevitably result in further avoidable delays”.
In a statement, Mr. Beggs said: “It is shameful that Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK not to have a cancer strategy.
“Targets are set for cancer treatment because there is very sound medical evidence that the longer a patient has to wait for diagnosis or treatment, the greater the risk that they may ultimately come to harm.
“That’s what makes the fact that Northern Ireland is missing so many of its key cancer targets so serious and inexcusable.
“It’s also a disease that is increasing rapidly - one in two people across Northern Ireland born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime.
“That is a shocking statistic and, whilst much later than I would have liked, it is why I very much welcome that at last we are now moving towards developing a new cancer strategy.
“Unfortunately however Richard Pengelly immediately deflated any positivity surrounding the announcement by saying that the implementation of the new strategy would only be for a future health minister to decide upon.
“Many will rightly even question the point of his statement in the first place when it looks almost certain that we are very unlikely to have a minister any time soon.
“The current secretary of state is virtually invisible and appears to show no awareness whatsoever that people are coming to real medical harm as a result of the ongoing impasse and her inaction. She can no longer continue to sit back and do nothing while local people suffer – if local ministers cannot be appointed, she should move immediately to introduce Direct Rule. At least then this new strategy may have a chance of actually helping people.”