On Monday 19 September 2016 Paula Bradshaw MLA presented a public petition to the House.
Mr Speaker: Ms Paula Bradshaw has sought leave to present a public petition in accordance with Standing Order 22. The Member will have up to three minutes to speak.
Ms Bradshaw: I am pleased to bring the issue to the urgent attention of the Assembly. I am also thankful that the Health Minister is in attendance.
Everyone in the Chamber will at least know someone close to them who has been affected by cancer. Everyone in the Chamber knows the difficultly and stress that it can cause to families, family circles, workplaces and people in every walk of life. We cannot, therefore, fail to be aware of the crushing unfairness of denying access to drugs for people who are going through all that. At the precise time that the health service should be on their side, when they have paid the same taxes and National Insurance as everyone else in the UK, people in Northern Ireland find themselves at a blatant disadvantage purely because of where they live. Far from being helped out, they find yet another obstacle placed in their way.
The position of people living in one part of the UK having access to life-enhancing drugs while people living in another do not is indefensible and has gone on for far too long. It is a basic principle: we pay in the same, we should get the same out. The system is unequal and unjust. Small wonder that the petition that I am submitting today on behalf of the campaign struck such a chord with the public.
Let us not be diverted by any notion that money may be an issue. Health Ministers can always find allocations of tens of millions of pounds for various things when elections are on the horizon. Indeed, we found millions of pounds in the summer, without a business case, to subsidise an airline and, just this morning, we found millions of pounds to prop up a regional airport. Whatever the rights or wrongs of those decisions, the fact is that the budget required to deliver equal access to drugs is but a drop in the ocean in the overall Health and Social Care budget. As so often, it is not merely about money but about the system.
Let me say a word about Melanie Kennedy, who has been working on the petition. That remarkable woman, frankly, could have worked around the system; she could have perhaps taken a friend’s address in England or such like. However, recognising the injustice and determined to fight for others as well as for herself, at risk to her own health, she campaigned for what is right. If anyone deserves a successful outcome it is her. The courage of many other campaigners like Melanie, so many of whom are undergoing treatment for cancer or who have people close to them who are, is also remarkable. They are too numerous to mention.
We call on the Minister to look again at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s guidance on access to those drugs. We would like her to make that a top priority for the Department of Health.
Ms Bradshaw moved forward and laid the petition on the Table.
Mr Speaker: I will send a copy of the petition to the Minister of Health, and a copy also to the Committee for Health.