Campaigners warn breast cancer deaths will rise if Northern Ireland units close
There will be an increase in breast cancer mortality rates if all services in Northern Ireland do not stay open, campaigners have said.
More than 100,000 people have signed a petition from local charity Knitted Knockers, which has been handed in to the Prime Minister, demanding that all breast cancer services should remain open.
Knitted Knockers has spearheaded a huge campaign to save services at Craigavon Area Hospital and Belfast City Hospital.
Two representatives from the charity travelled to 10 Downing Street last week to hand over a detailed document outlining the case for keeping the services open, which has been signed by 111,459 people.
The Department of Health launched a public consultation on proposals to cut existing services from next year.
The proposals suggest that breast cancer services would continue in Altnagelvin, Ulster and Antrim hospitals, but clinics at Belfast City and Craigavon Area would close.
Joanne Harris, founder of Knitted Knockers, who travelled to London with the petition last week, said the threatened closures could lead to increasing mortality rates among breast cancer patients.
"One of the biggest concerns is that people have said they are unable or unwilling to travel to the three locations, which would lead to a decrease in uptake for assessment and an increase in patients presenting with later stages of breast cancer and secondaries," she said.
"If these closures caused this to happen, we would consider the Department of Health responsible for the increase in mortality rates that would be the case in years to come."
Some cancer charities have welcomed the proposal, saying it would reduce waiting times.
In March, Richard Pengelly, Department of Health permanent secretary, said "sticking with the current model would mean ongoing and worsening vulnerability, with deteriorating waiting times for assessment. That would simply be unacceptable".
"Consolidating care on three sites means we can provide durable and quality services, for the benefit of patients and staff," he added at the time.