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Next steps for cancer care in Northern Ireland

Ethna McFerran 15 Mar 2024

How I represented the RCN Cancer Forum on 9 February, speaking at the Westminster Forum Projects event – ‘Next steps for cancer care in Northern Ireland’.

The event was set against the backdrop of the restart of governance structures in Northern Ireland on 3 February and set out a series of critical issues that face the newly appointed Health Minister as they set out a programme for local government. I presented two central pieces of recent research which I led, firstly in relation to the use of unscheduled care at the end of life in cancer patients. 

My talk highlighted the key policy priorities for Northern Ireland which follow from this work, including the urgent need to establish Lung Cancer Screening services in Northern Ireland, and to expand the age range of access for colorectal cancer screening – in both instances Northern Ireland lags behind other regions of the UK. The first part of my talk also highlighted the need to prioritize investments in Cancer Strategy elements related to palliative and end of life care and advanced care planning to take the data generated from this research into practice to deliver patient-centred care. The second piece of research I presented in the seminar was in relation to the costs of skin cancer in which I highlighted the more than 10-fold increase in the costs of melanoma care, and the need to commit investment in cancer prevention services to support cost savings for future care. 

I also highlighted the central role that data plays in understanding our services and the potential held in the launch of the Encompass IT system to connect and transform care delivery. Finally, I also discussed the increased need for attention to the risks posed by inequalities and looking forward to future work in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Northern Ireland and Bowel Cancer UK to address socio-economic factors in screening participation.

Other speakers on the day also raised the need for a dedicated workforce plan and the importance of the significant value of the contribution of the third sector to plugging gaps in health service provision. Tomas Adell from the Department of Health spoke to the launch, more than 12 months ago, of Rapid diagnostic clinics in the region, a Haematology Action Plan that is forthcoming and to a commitment to publish a cancer research strategy.

Expanding upon the discussions, it's evident that the urgent call for enhanced cancer care in Northern Ireland is underscored by the need to address key issues such as the use of unscheduled care, the establishment of crucial screening services to support early and timely diagnosis, and the allocation of resources towards palliative and end-of-life care. My presentation shed light on the pressing demand for advancements in cancer prevention efforts, particularly concerning the rising incidence of skin cancer and its associated economic burdens. Moreover, the emphasis on data-driven approaches and the potential of innovative technologies like the Encompass IT system signifies a shift towards more efficient and patient-centric care.

Furthermore, it was clear there is the necessity for a comprehensive workforce plan to ensure the sustainability and quality of cancer care services, aligning with global standards for optimal outcomes and research endeavours. Additionally, the acknowledgment of the invaluable contributions of third-sector organisations underscores the collaborative effort required to bridge gaps in healthcare provision effectively.

In summary, the event emphasised the multifaceted nature of the challenges facing cancer care in Northern Ireland and underscored the importance of collaborative efforts, innovative solutions, and the need to urgently fund the existing strategic plan to address these challenges comprehensively. We know however across the UK you may be experiencing similar challenges, if this resonates with you we'd love to hear your stories and experiences, visit: SenseMaker - Tell your story. Help transform nursing.

Ethna McFerran

Ethna McFerran

Chair of Cancer Forum

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Queens University Belfast

Ethna McFerran is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Queen’s University Belfast, a member of the RCN Cancer and Breast Care Forum Committee and sits on the RCN Northern Ireland Research and Quality Group committee. 

Page last updated - 15/03/2024