I wish to start by echoing the thoughts of many in the Chamber on the success of BreastCheck and the screening programme. I acknowledge the hard work done by the staff of BreastCheck, the positive impact that has had on homes across the country and the lives that have been saved by it. Indeed, Deputy McAuliffe made the point that cancer can come to any home. However, we also need to look at the issue of delays, and the time lost due to the Covid pandemic and the cyberattack, as Deputy Shortall mentioned. Delays in screening lead to delays in diagnosis, which leads to delays in treatment and can lead to more significant time lost. It is time lost that loved ones and families can have together. It is incumbent on the Government to continue to take the steps that we have been taking to support the services to deal with this backlog and get back on top, so that the success that BreastCheck has had can continue to grow. We must deal with the backlog and deal with the time lost to ensure that no family loses a loved one.
Many of the constituents I have spoken to in relation to breast cancer view the issue through the same lens that they view women’s healthcare in general. I am conscious of the protesters who were outside Leinster House in recent weeks, protesting about the restrictions on maternity care. Thankfully, we are seeing a lifting of these restrictions and development in that area. As a result, I am not sure the complaints I wanted to make in that area are still valid, but the changes that are happening are happening slowly.
We need to look at ensuring that all women have safe and reliable access to all aspects of healthcare, whether it is maternity care, BreastCheck or abortion services, which we will be looking at in the upcoming legislative review. It is very important to ensure safe and consistent access.
I am also conscious that, as we speak, representatives from the All-Island Cancer Research Institute are appearing before the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. This highlights the areas where we can work closely with others to fight back against cancer. Just as I ask the Ministers of State to ensure not just BreastCheck but other screening programmes get the funding they need to catch up on the Covid backlog, I also ask that valued institutes, such as the All-Island Cancer Research Institute, do not suffer because of Covid, Brexit or anything else and that the good work they do can still be supported and can still contribute to fighting cancer.