Northern Ireland

Simon Hamilton signs off on £1.5m of funding for specialist drugs

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Media captionChief Executive of Cancer Focus NI Roisin Foster gave a "cautious welcome" to the approval of funding

The Democratic Unionist Party's Simon Hamilton has signed-off £1.5m for new specialist drugs in Northern Ireland.

Mr Hamilton signed off on the plan, that includes cancer drugs, when he was reinstated as health minister for a "matter of hours" on Wednesday.

The DUP resigned all but one of its ministers last week amid a growing crisis at Stormont.

However, they were reinstated temporarily on Wednesday.

Mr Hamilton said while the current political situation "wasn't pretty" it did not mean he could not do some business.

"I was able take decisions which were beneficial to the people of Northern Ireland in respect of their health care, so I was able to release some funding to help to relieve some pressures on our GP system," he told the BBC's Nolan Show.

"I was also able to release around £1.5m which will allow all NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence)-approved drugs and treatment this year to go forward. That's something that my mailbag has been full of."

Analysis Marie-Louise Connolly BBC NI health correspondent

Northern Ireland has not had any new NICE-approved drugs for almost a year - since November 2014.

The national target is that these drugs should be available for patients within 19 weeks. But that hasn't been happening and local patients are suffering compared to their counterparts elsewhere.

Waiting in the wings are NICE-approved drugs for relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis, psoriatic arthritis, colitis, coronary heart disease, advanced renal cell carcinoma, ulcerative colitis, hepatitis, gastro-intestinal stromal tumour, alcohol addiction.

Behind all these illnesses are men, women and children who are struggling every day with their condition.

Cancer Focus NI has campaigned long and hard for these drugs to come to Northern Ireland. However while three health ministers have told them that they would like to be able to deliver the NICE-approved drugs, up until now the budget has prevented that.

However, a window of opportunity on Wednesday allowed the DUP's Simon Hamilton to sign his name and as a result trigger £1.5m to be released to purchase the drugs.

Chief Executive of Cancer Focus NI Roisin Foster gave a "cautious welcome" to the approval of funding for the cancer drugs, but said the move did not go far enough.

"We're pleased there's been some progress made on this and £1.5m will indeed ease pressures on access to NICE-approved drugs," she said.

"But there's been no movement at all on the work on non-NICE approved drugs where we are lagging very far behind the UK.

"Each day 25 people in Northern Ireland are diagnosed with cancer and 11 people die from the disease.

"We are trying to get the best possible outcome for these people so they can live as well and as long as they can after a cancer diagnosis."

Mr Hamilton also backed the release of £1.3m already been earmarked for general practice.

The story of Stormont's crisis

  • Stormont's political upheaval was sparked by allegations that Provisional IRA members were involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan Sr
  • Row erupted after a senior Sinn Féin member was arrested as part of the inquiry into Mr McGuigan's death. He was later released without charge
  • Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson stepped aside; all but one of his Democratic Unionist Party ministers resigned
  • Finance Minister Arlene Foster is now acting first minister
  • Read more on how the crisis unfolded

The DUP health, enterprise and social development ministers quit last Thursday amid the deepening political crisis sparked by the murder of a former IRA man in Belfast.

The ministers were reinstated on Wednesday, briefly, to prevent the posts going to other parties.

DUP leader Peter Robinson said he would not allow the positions to go to nationalists.

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