Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

London Notebook: Call for dignity may have a sting in tail for DUP

Foyle MP Mark Durkan

Westminster Hall is the oldest building in the Palace of Westminster, completed in 1099. The law courts used to sit there, coronation banquets were held there and it is where royals, most recently the Queen Mother, lie in state.

These days, it is home to the little-mentioned secondary chamber of the House of Commons.

In a room off the hall, MPs sit in a hemicycle and discuss non-contentious issues without the partisan rough and tumble usually associated with Westminster. There are no votes to be won, or lost.

Last week, Tory MP James Clappison secured a Westminster Hall debate on cancer patient experience. The topic was of interest to Northern Ireland MPs.

Jim Shannon spoke of his own experiences. "My father and sister suffered from cancer.

"Of the four staff employed in my Newtownards office, my parliamentary aide had two grandparents die from cancer and her father suffers from cancer, my secretary had her mother die from cancer."

Gregory Campbell said men's reluctance to visit their GP can cause late diagnosis.

"I do not understand the logic," he said. "If my television does not work, I get a TV repair man in. If the washing machine does not work, I get the washing machine repair man in," he said.

"If people have a health problem, they go to their GP."

Mark Durkan (right) recalled the deal he did with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown when he was Finance Minister on funding for a regional cancer centre.

He said the radiotherapy unit now to be based at Altnagelvin was built without private finance.

"Great work is being done there, not only for the patients it serves in Northern Ireland, but because of the calibre of people it can attract and the clinical trials it can run," he said.

David Simpson pointed to a Macmillan report that showed 15% of patients "experienced humiliation".

"That should not happen to someone suffering from cancer," he said.

Given the DUP's views on gay people, there was a quiet irony that Shannon, Campbell and Simpson were followed by Eric Olleranshaw.

"Other members have talked about dignity and humiliation," the Tory MP began. "I will be utterly personal about the issue, because, in one sense, that is what has driven me to get so involved. I remember my partner's situation," he said.

His partner was a man.

"I can remember being sat in the hospital and my partner coming back, straight from surgery, with things wrapped round. We said, 'What is it?' The doctor turned round and said, 'Oh, it's terminal.' That is the kind of situation that happens.

"Where is the understanding? Where are the few minutes where they say, 'Let's just go through this. Let's look at the options?'"

In Westminster Hall, MPs share their very different experiences.

Perhaps Mr Olleranshaw was not just talking about cancer patient treatment when he told the DUP MPs: "A person should not have to be Brain of Britain, or have gone on a training course, to have a little more time and to treat people with a little more dignity."

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