Call for public to back breast cancer services consultation
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride has said it is vital people make their voices heard over changes to breast cancer services.
A public consultation is currently under way over plans to keep three breast cancer assessment centres - Altnagelvin, Ulster and Antrim - open, and close the remaining two at Belfast City Hospital and Craigavon Area Hospital.
The Department of Health say that although some women will have to travel further, it means resources will be concentrated and more patients will be able to be seen within the 14-day target.
Dr McBride said making no change "was not a realistic or responsible option" and that spreading resources too thinly across Northern Ireland could make services vulnerable to collapse.
"In the past 10 years, despite Herculean efforts by staff across all trusts, there have only been 12 months in which services have been able to meet the 14 day target in Northern Ireland. In the past five years, we have only met it in two months," he said.
"Unless we make changes, increasing numbers of women will face long, anxious delays in finding out if they have cancer. We simply cannot tolerate such a situation."
Dr McBride said the services needed to be strengthened for the future, with an expected surge in cancer due to an increasingly elderly population.
"It would be irresponsible to avoid decisions now, in the knowledge that services could be overwhelmed in future by an inability to cope with demand. All responses to the consultation will be carefully considered by the department before any decision is taken on whether to implement the proposals in the consultation document - or any viable alternative ideas that come forward."
He said the department was aware of the concerns raised by its own staff members, in the media and by other key stakeholders.
"We take these concerns very seriously and would ask that they be channelled to the department through the consultation response process so that they can be given thorough consideration."
The consultation can be found on the health department's website and will run until July 19, with a series of public engagement events to be held in June.