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People, partnerships and pathways – improving breast cancer services in Northern Ireland

Over the last year, we’ve been trying to better understand breast cancer in Northern Ireland. We’ve engaged with people affected by breast cancer, local politicians, cancer charities, healthcare professionals and representatives from the Department of Health and Public Health Agency.

We want to work together with these organisations to improve prevention, diagnoses and treatment of breast cancer in Northern Ireland.

What’s happening in Northern Ireland?

In 2022, the Department of Health published the 10-year cancer strategy for Northern Ireland. But shortly after, the Executive collapsed and there was no power sharing agreement in Northern Ireland, which limited how much the Department of Health could deliver on the strategy. Power sharing returned to Northern Ireland in 2024.

Breast cancer patients are also waiting too long. Breast cancer waiting times from April to September 2023 outlined that only 52.9% (1,757) of patients were seen within 14 days of their urgent referral for breast cancer. Local people living with secondary, or metastatic, breast cancer also continue to face challenges, such as getting a prompt diagnosis and timely access to treatment and care.

We want to better understand the causes behind these issues, such as the pandemic, workforce shortages and a lack of funding. And we want to take action to address them.

Engaging people and building partnerships

In the past few months, we’ve met with representatives from the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry to discuss the latest research and data. We’ve also spoken to the Public Health Agency about breast screening and making it easier for people to access screening services.

Simon Vincent, our Director of Research, Engagement and Influencing, visited Belfast and met with the Department of Health’s Head of Cancer Projects. They discussed the breast cancer pathway, the cancer strategy, and how we can work together to improve breast cancer services.

These partnerships will help us transform local breast cancer services. We’ve also been meeting with local charities, such as Action Cancer. We want to find out how we can work together to achieve our goals of fewer cases, fewer deaths and a better quality of life for everyone affected by breast cancer.

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We’re also excited to share that we have recently joined the Northern Ireland Cancer Charities Coalition (NICCC) which launched on 10 June 2024 in Stormont. The coalition is made up of 37 members and supported by political and health and social care leaders. We’re working to make sure that the entire cancer strategy is properly funded and fully implemented. We also look forward to working with cancer charities to improve outcomes for people affected by cancer.

What’s next?

People with breast cancer are at the heart of everything we do. We’ll continue to engage with local people living with primary and secondary breast cancer to ensure that we include their experience in our work. We’ll also work with the NICCC to make sure the Department of Health delivers on their promises within the cancer strategy. All of this work will help us to transform breast cancer services in Northern Ireland for the future.

Use your voice

Our Breast Cancer Voices use their experience of breast cancer to shape our work. Sign up to the bulletin to get involved.

Breast Cancer Voices

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