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Programme for Government must improve cancer care

The new Programme for Government must be able to address the physical, emotional, practical and financial impact of cancer.

That’s the key message running through our response to the first stage of consultation on what Northern Ireland’s devolved government should aim to achieve during the next five years.

Macmillan campaigned before the Assembly election in May to make sure that cancer care remained high on the political agenda. We were delighted that many parties made clear commitments around cancer and several also included our specific calls in their manifestos.

The NI Executive is now creating its Programme for Government, which is structured in a new way. It’s using an outcomes framework to set the overall aims before action plans are developed on how to achieve these.

Because the framework has to be agreed before detailed plans can be drawn up, the Executive is using a two-stage consultation process to capture the views of the public.

Macmillan welcomes a number of commitments made in the draft Framework. These include reducing health inequality and improving patient experience, mental health and care services, as well as increasing quality of life for people with disabilities.

Our response calls for a range of additional goals including better end of life care, support for carers and a reduction in fuel poverty.

When the agreed framework is published in autumn, we will recommend specific actions that could help the Executive achieve its goals and improve the lives of people affected by cancer.

We’re also watching for announcements about a proposed cancer strategy for Northern Ireland, something which several political parties committed to in their manifesto. Any strategy that is developed must meet the needs of people living with cancer, both during and after treatment.

Macmillan looks forward to building on our track record of working with the Northern Ireland Executive to develop, improve and modernise cancer support services.

In the meantime, please get in touch with our Policy Officer Michael if you’d like to read Macmillan NI’s full response to the Programme for Government Framework.

Email to request a copy.


The vital role of specialist cancer nurses

Cherith Semple for Macmillan

Cherith Semple is a Macmillan Head and Neck Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), based at the Ulster Hospital.

I work with newly diagnosed head and neck cancer patients and their families. As their key worker, I provide support and advice, and coordinate their care.

This is an important role, which includes providing psychological support and ensuring  patients have as good a grasp as possible of what treatment will mean for them, as well as helping them deal with the consequences of their cancer and any side effects of treatment. This is vital as head and neck cancer is visible and often impacts on many basic day-to-day functions, such as speaking and eating.

I’ve been a Macmillan CNS since 2000.  Early in my career, I realised that patients felt very vulnerable, once they were discharged from hospital.  One minute they were surrounded by their specialist clinical team, the next they were going home.  In fact, when patients were asked about their aftercare, one patient said, “It felt like my cord was cut from the specialist multidisciplinary team. “

That’s where our telephone support aftercare service comes in.  Patients know that, if they have concerns, they can call me.  Sometimes they just need reassurance.  Or they may need an appointment to come in straight away.  Either way, they don’t need to wait on their next review appointment.  They can just pick up the phone, with rapid access to an appointment, should they need it.

As part of the Macmillan-funded Transforming Cancer Follow Up programme, I now run a surgical follow up clinic for low-risk patients.  We’ve also produced a leaflet on the signs and symptoms of recurrence to give patients the confidence to self-manage their condition and know what to look out for.

We have recruited two volunteers who come and help with the weekly follow-up clinic – one of whom was my former patient.  Meeting someone who has come through similar treatment and recovery inspires a lot of people.   The volunteers help patients complete an electronic holistic needs assessment (eHNA) to help identify their current needs and concerns.  That means talking through a list of possible concerns and identifying the support they require.

The biggest reward for being a Macmillan CNS is making a positive difference and helping improve the quality of life of my patients.   I’ve been able to work on patient-focused research, which has made the cancer care we provide more person-centred.

Last year, I was the winner of the NI RCN Nurse of the Year award.  It was an honour and a privilege because there are lots of nurses doing excellent work and providing exceptional care.  Finally, no one works in isolation, so it’s been lovely sharing this award with colleagues who’ve got similar core values as myself – putting patients at the heart of their practice.

Watch Raymond’s story on our Macmillan NI YouTube site