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First Minister must end this cancer lottery

The news that the Northern Ireland government does not have enough money to fund a promised radiotherapy centre in Londonderry (News, March 24) comes as a further blow to cancer patients who already suffer from poorer access to treatments compared with their counterparts in England.

Our research has found that cancer patients in Northern Ireland are now being denied 26 different life-extending cancer drugs which are available in England.

Patients have to overcome three separate mountains to gain access to the treatments their doctors think would benefit them.

Seven drugs approved by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) - whose availability is therefore mandatory in England - are not yet approved for use in Northern Ireland.

In addition, Northern Ireland cancer patients are unable to gain access to 19 drugs not recommended by NICE, which are available in England through the new Cancer Drugs Fund.

And in a further blow, individual funding requests for treatments are being turned down on grounds of cost alone, denying patients an opportunity to gain access to the treatments they need. There is a danger that this will increase in the future with a tightening health budget.

The problems in accessing drugs, and now radiotherapy, suggest that cancer patients are falling victim to administrative delays and budget cuts.

Fighting cancer is hard enough without having to fight the system to get access to treatment.

The First Minister, Peter Robinson, should personally intervene to stop this unacceptable lottery.

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