£1.5m boost for cancer drugs
Charity welcomes cash but slams delay over specialist fund
A leading cancer charity has given a guarded welcome to a £1.5m boost for drug treatments, but voiced concerns over an ongoing delay in a decision for a specialist drugs fund.
The money released to invest in drugs approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) was made by the DUP's Simon Hamilton in a brief reinstatment as Health Minister.
Hundreds of patients waiting for months will finally get access to drugs to help treat illnesses including cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and severe inflammatory arthritis. But a cancer survivor has described the current political situation as "a farce".
The Government target is for patients to access NICE approved drugs within 19 weeks. But Northern Ireland has not had any new NICE-approved drugs since November 2014.
The move also comes as Mr Hamilton received criticism for resigning his post amid the growing crisis in Stormont.
He has insisted that decisions that benefit the public will still be taken. The release of £1.3m already earmarked for easing the workload in general practice was also approved on Wednesday.
Cancer Focus welcomed any extra funding, but said an answer is needed on the NICE non-approved drugs fund.
A Health Department spokeswoman said responses to the consultation, which closed in May, were currently being analysed.
Roisin Foster, chief executive of Cancer Focus, said the Department of Health needed stable leadership.
"The fact is, there have been no NICE drugs since last November and people had been waiting since then," she said.
"The drugs won't save lives but they will improve the quality of life and can give people extra time, which is so important for families.
"Every day, 25 people are told they have cancer in Northern Ireland - equivalent to a classroom of children. And 11 people will die every day."
Ms Foster also said there was a need for clear leadership.
"To have had three Health Ministers in such a short space of time, it has been difficult to keep the continuity of consultation open and we have had two meetings cancelled.
"We need bereaved families to be heard and it is hard when there is no one to listen."
Mr Hamilton said: "I know the range of pressures our health and social care system is facing and taking funding decisions means making difficult choices. I appreciate that there will always be demands for more and more funding for health issues but I hope that people will join me in welcoming this important funding which will improve the lives of many patients."
William Edgar (34), from Kilkeel, is now in remission after being diagnosed with stage two bowel cancer in April 2013. He said "time is of the essence" for treatment.
"I was lucky my GP referred me quickly, but for anyone to have to wait for treatment and drugs that they are entitled to because of a lack of funds or what is happening in Stormont is a disgrace, a farce," he said.