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Cancer Focus Northern Ireland

Cancer Focus Northern Ireland is a Northern Ireland-based cancer charity.  For the last 46 years we have aimed to reduce the burden of cancer on our local community by funding world-class local research, delivering cancer prevention programmes and providing care services.

Our services complement Health and Social Services, promote self-reliance and can reduce the demand for acute services. The following are one example from our Care Services portfolio and one from our Cancer Prevention / Health Promotion portfolio. 

Project 1


The Cancer Focus NI Counselling Service aims to support cancer patients and family members cope with the psychological impact of cancer, loss and bereavement. The service is provided in 9 locations across Northern Ireland by fully qualified, experienced professionals, accredited by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy. It provides a safe and confidential space where patients can talk one-to-one about what is important to them.  It helps to empower patients to work through what their diagnosis means for them and to build positive futures for themselves and for their families. Given the financial burden a diagnosis can place on the patient, all of our services are free at the point of delivery. Last year 3,078 counselling sessions were offered to patients across Northern Ireland (total cost £180,000).

Reduction in Demand for Acute Services

The Counselling Service enables cancer patients and family members develop coping strategies.  For some patients this is a vital part of returning to normal life - or a new definition of normal life.  Patients report feeling anxious, depressed with some expressing thoughts of life not worth living. Counselling reduces demand for community mental health services and enables cancer patients and bereaved relatives build a positive future.

Supporting People to Take Control of Their Own Outcomes

Enabling people resolve the psychosocial impact of a cancer diagnosis or bereavement lies at the heart of our Counselling Service. The service is for an agreed number of sessions and avoids building dependencies, although service users can re-refer if their situation deteriorates.

Patient feedback endorses this:

  •  “The service truly has given me more than the operations and other services which, whilst they have played their part, discovering myself through this Counselling Service has given me the tools to live on”.
  •  “Counselling helped me to stay focused and positive and to look forward”.
  •  “Only for this Counselling Service I might not be here”.

Integrating Health and Social Care

The Cancer Focus NI Counselling Service works as an integral part of statutory cancer services.  Trusts support the service with accommodation and administrative support and refer patients into the service.  The Counsellors work as part of the Trusts’ psychosocial support team.  Belfast Trust funds one Counsellor: the remainder are funded through voluntary donations to the charity. The service works across health and social care: patients most frequently access the service when their cancer treatment finishes. For many people it is at that point that the psychological impact becomes most apparent, with some patients demonstrating many of the features of post-traumatic stress. Appropriate, timely, high quality counselling can offer invaluable support to patients to manage this.


It is not appropriate or sustainable that vital counselling for cancer patients relies on public donations. Referrals have increased dramatically over the past year with waiting lists of over 3 months. With cancer rates set to rise by over 60% by 2035, this will exacerbate.


In common with most UK charities, Cancer Focus NI does not have access to the data or expertise to measure the depth of analysis required for SROI. We measure effective outcomes through evaluation of service experience and set strategic goals for service development.

Project 2

Community Outreach Programmes - Keeping Well and Well Aware

Community Outreach Programmes work with communities and individuals to promote healthy lifestyles and so prevent cancer. The projects prioritise areas of social disadvantage, hard to reach groups and those at great cancer risk, including older people, travelling community, homeless, LGBT, rural communities, manual/outdoor workers, ethnic minorities, long-term unemployed and within prison services. Qualified nursing and health promotion personnel staff our 4 mobile health check vehicles. Interventions address general health and well-being before moving on to discussions of individual’s specific health concerns including: smoking cessation support with the option for CO monitoring, skin cancer awareness, skin scanner, body composition, blood pressure, pulse, blood glucose, mental health and well-being, body awareness, including use of breast and testicular models. Uptake of screening opportunities is promoted and explained. Participants are encouraged to set individual goals to reduce cancer risk and follow up is offered.  Information and advice provision is reinforced by the distribution of a range of leaflets and other guidance materials. Where appropriate, service users are referred to other local services.

Well Aware, funded by Big Lottery and provided in partnership with Choice Housing, additionally enables and informs older people so they feel more confident in raising concerns with their GP.

In 2014/15 the community services carried out 7,458 health checks and reached a further 6,124 people through health talks and community health fairs. 34% of people receiving a health check were referred to other services. 65% of Keeping Well van service users were men - often seen as hard to reach through traditional services. Of these, 78% were overweight or obese: 19% had high blood pressure. 97% of Well Aware participants reported and increased awareness of cancer prevention: 98% reported improved knowledge of their awareness of cancer signs and symptoms.

Total service cost £280,000 (including Big Lottery Grant). £20.70 per service user.

Reduction in Demand for Acute Services

These services:

  • Enable people to identify cancer symptoms early.
  • Take steps to reduce risk by empowering behaviour change.
  • Work with groups most at risk and in marginalised communities.
  • Reach people who are not in regular contact with primary care.
  • Have identified cause for concern in % of service users.
  • Have referred 34% to other services. 

This results in health problems being identified before they become acute.

Supporting People Take Control of Their H&SC Outcomes

These services enable people to:

  • Identify cancer causes, signs and symptoms.
  • Increase awareness of cancer risk.
  • Set goals to reduce risk.
  • Access further relevant services.
  • Increase their confidence to speak to health professionals.
  • Access support from “health champions” who we have trained in communities.

Integrating Health and Social Care

These services promote healthy lifestyles and early detection and referral into a wide range of health and social services including, primary care, pharmacy, mental health.


In common with most UK charities, Cancer Focus NI does not have access to the data or expertise to measure the depth of analysis required for SROI. We measure effective outcomes through evaluation of service experience and set strategic goals for service development.

Roisin Foster, Chief Executive

April 2016