Belfast Telegraph

We must find cash for cancer drugs

Editor's Viewpoint

Just think for a moment of the horrifying situation that Belfast artist Nicola Russell finds herself in. She has been told recently that she has secondary, incurable cancer, surely the most devastating diagnosis it is possible to get. But there was even worse news for her.

There are drugs available which can prolong her life, but they are not available in Northern Ireland, even though people in other parts of the UK can be prescribed them.

The problem is that the Health Service in Northern Ireland does not have the money for these specialised and innovative drugs.

There are 38 drugs that patients here cannot access but which are available through the Cancer Drugs Fund in England.

Nicola, quite rightly, is outraged and she makes the very pertinent point that political debate here often focuses on such issues as flags or parades, issues which pale into insignificance compared to measures to save or prolong lives.

Health Minister Edwin Poots has initiated a review of the situation here and one suggestion is that small prescription charges could be reintroduced to help fund these specialist drugs.

Money could also be available through an agreement between the UK government and pharmaceutical companies which control the price of drugs.

But, in typical Stormont fashion, this issue has only really come to the public attention because of the courage of Nicola and other cancer patients like her.

We hear reasons from the Department of Health why it cannot help patients like Nicola, but we hear little from official sources of how they intend to change the situation and bring hope to thousands of people here.

Nicola may now move to England in a bid to get the drug treatment she needs. That is an option that most people couldn't exercise. It is now up to Mr Poots and his department to find ways of funding drug treatment for cancer patients.

It should be done speedily. This is a matter of life and death and must be treated as such. People are suffering physically and emotionally and that is a shame on Stormont.

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