Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Stormont cash for cancer fight is a no-brainer

Una Crudden
Una Crudden

The tightness of budgets and the devastating effect of indecision on issues like welfare reform can be shown in the fact that £8m a year can't be found to pay for cancer patients to have the same access to drugs as elsewhere in the UK.

That sort of money used to be the small change of monitoring rounds. Not any more.

When you let it be known that you have cancer, you soon discover that lots of other people also have the disease, but only discuss it with friends and fellow sufferers.

Some are blunt. One man emailed me after my own diagnosis to say: "Welcome to the hell that is cancer." He is now through an operation and is doing well.

Many like Una Crudden, the ovarian cancer campaigner who has now run out of treatment options and is on palliative care, are an inspiration as they fight back when that is feasible, or deal with the inevitable, if it comes to that.

One thing most people have in common is desire to extend useful life. People want to continue participating and contributing as long as possible.

One advantage of a slow disease – with the possibility of cure – over an unexpected death is that it provides an opportunity to tie up loose ends. Helping people pull through and make the most of the time available must be a priority of politicians, not an add-on if there is spare change.

Fearghal McKinney of the SDLP recently made this point when he called for Northern Ireland to become a centre of excellence for cancer treatment and research to match San Diego in California.

Beyond the 39 drugs the Belfast Telegraph has been campaigning for, there are other hopeful treatments coming up all the time.

Not all will be effective, or safe, so they require testing. Delta-inhibitors, which boost the immune system to deal with cancer, could, if eventually validated, reduce the need for debilitating and costly chemotherapy.

They have shown promising results on leukaemia and are now being tested in both Cambridge and London Universities on other cancers.

As Mr McKinney says, Northern Ireland should be in there, leading the field. Queen's University is already doing valuable research; Government should be boosting this effort as a priority.

Our politicians don't like the idea of assisted dying for the terminally ill. That should make them doubly determined to help people lead useful lives.

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