Editor's Viewpoint: A beacon of hope in cancer battle
Published 24/02/2012 | 08:00
When Professor Patrick Johnston came back to Northern Ireland from the US in 1996 to spearhead the creation of a new cancer centre - with a strong research as well as clinical focus - he promised that the province would see the benefits in the near future.
Those benefits are very evident today. Between 50 and 60 people survive the disease each year who would previously have died. There are 300 researchers from 36 countries engaged in groundbreaking work. In earlier times none - or very few - of them would have ever considered working here.
As well there are over 1,000 patients on clinical trials each year, trials which could led to even greater success in defeating the scourge of cancer. Northern Ireland is now seen as one of the most successful centres in the world for treating the disease. Survival statistics are up to 4% better than in England and Wales, a very significant difference in medical terms.
None of this is accidental. The original vision of creating specialist cancer units in a number of hospitals with a regional unit at Belfast City Hospital was the vital infrastructure which allowed cancer specialists to work in critical masses on treating the disease. This was complemented by world class research and collaboration with other centres of excellence throughout the world. The incidence of the disease may be on the increase but the chances of surviving it are also better.
Today Queen's University receives the highest third level accolade, the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education at Buckingham Palace to recognise its contribution to the vast improvement in cancer services here. It is a prize which is well deserved, but ultimately the success is a collaborative one, from the funders at the Department of Health to the wards where patients receive treatment. Now the university is to create an Institute of Health Sciences campus bringing research into various diseases and conditions onto one site. If it can produce similarly spectacular results then Northern Ireland will certainly be an exemplar to the rest of the world.