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DUP South Antrim MLA and Vice-Chair of the Assembly Health Committee Pam Cameron has said enhancing high-priority cancer services must be at the heart of plans to rebuild health and social care in Northern Ireland after Covid-19.

Reacting to the publication of the Cancer Waiting Times Statistics covering the period January to March 2020, Mrs Cameron said:

‘‘These figures highlight not just the profound impact of cancer across our Province but the huge strides needed to secure better outcomes for those whose lives are unalterably changed after a diagnosis.

It is extremely worrying that only just over a half of patients who started treatment in March after an urgent GP referral did so within the 62-day target. In addition, only 80% of those seen by a breast cancer specialist for the first time did so within fourteen days - despite the target being 100%.

These statistics also provide early and troubling insight into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. During March 2020, 1,476 new referrals for suspect breast cancer were this recorded – over 500 fewer than in the corresponding period in 2019. It is a matter of deep regret that this picture is likely to worsen as further figures covering the duration of lockdown become available.

The DUP has advocated for a clear and proactive timetable for the return of cancer services as part of the rebuild process. We recognise the unprecedented demand faced by the Department of Health and HSCTs but as capacity increases in line with reduced rate of transmission there is a responsibility to refocus and ramp-up services toward other threats to the local population.

In this regard I and my colleagues will continue to work with the Minister to promote safe and accessible environments for resuming vital cancer treatment and surgery.’’