New cancer scheme will offer patients 'round-the-clock care'
Seriously ill cancer patients in Northern Ireland who have complications during their illness are to be able to access round-the-clock care.
It is the first region in the UK to establish an acute oncology facility across all five health trusts.
The Macmillan Cancer Support charity has invested £1m in the new scheme.
Previously, patients who became ill at night or at the weekend may not have been able to access specialist treatment.
In some cases patients would have had to go through their local emergency department.
Around 63,000 people in Northern Ireland are living with cancer.
The £1m investment from Macmillan will be rolled out over a period of four years, and will pay for seven specialist nurses to work across each of the health trusts.
Cancer patient Samuel Keers was involved in the pilot project at Craigavon Area Hospital.
He described the service as a lifeline.
"One night during my chemotherapy treatment, I developed a very high temperature. I was frightened.
"I didn't know what was happening to me. But I was able to go straight to Craigavon where I was admitted and seen by a specialist. They got my temperature down. I felt very unwell.
"As well as being treated I was also reassured," he said.
The Public Health Agency's Dr Miriam McCarthy, who is leading the regional group, described the facility as extremely worthwhile.
"Each trust will now have medical and nursing staff that will provide expert advice on the care of patients experiencing complications of their cancer," she said.
The Chief Executive of the Health and Social Care Board Valerie Watts praised the work of staff: "This new service will mean that when patients need to attend hospital for some emergency or unplanned management of their cancer they will receive the same high quality care as provided by their cancer consultant."
The Public Health Agency said the facility will provide reassurance and treatment to very vulnerable patients.