Action Cancer

Action Cancer officially launches new skin cancer detection service

New service available in Belfast and regionally throughout NI on board the Big Bus.

Action Cancer is delighted to announce the introduction of a new skin cancer detection service, in partnership with the Department of Health.

Skin cancer incidence across the UK continues to increase with Northern Ireland having one of the highest incidences in the UK.  Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer in Northern Ireland and melanoma which is associated with moles is the fifth.

In 2015 Action Cancer undertook some initial research into the possibility of delivering onboard its mobile clinic the Big Bus a free skin cancer detection service, a service provided by no other charity in the UK.  The research indicated that conceptually such a service targeting hard to reach groups was of much merit but required a referral pathway into secondary care.  In parallel, the former HSCB was designing and developing an IT / app-based photo triage pathway to be rolled out to GP practices across Northern Ireland.  In 2022 agreement was reached to allow Action Cancer to also access and use the technology to refer clients with suspect lesions directly into secondary care.

The service on board the Big Bus supplements the service available in most GP practices in Northern Ireland, increasing choice and accessibility.  The free service is being delivered on board the charity’s mobile unit, the Big Bus (supported by SuperValu and Centra) and at Action Cancer House in Belfast and is being funded by the Department of Health through the COVID 19 Cancer Charities Support Fund to 31st March 2024.

With the skin cancer detection service onboard alongside the existing services of breast screening and health checks, the Big Bus is a truly unique vehicle with no similar vehicle operating anywhere else in Great Britain or Ireland.  The charity’s aim is for it to visit annually up to 200 locations throughout Northern Ireland, with 80% of the visits being to areas of high deprivation where health inequalities are greatest.

The skin cancer detection service now available through Action Cancer offers another pathway for people concerned about a new or changing skin lesion.  Delivered by a highly qualified and experienced nursing specialist team, the service offers a two-stage process.

Concerned members of the public, who meet the service eligibility criteria, are offered in the first instance a virtual assessment with a skin cancer specialist nurse.

If the specialist nurse feels that further assessment is needed, then a face-to-face appointment is offered on board an upcoming visit by the Big Bus; which visits all five HSC Trust areas across Northern Ireland twice every four weeks or at Action Cancer House in Belfast.

Following the face-to-face appointment, the charity then has the ability using the Department of Health recently developed dermatology photo triage referral pathway, to refer the individual directly to secondary care for further assessment.

Iona McCormack who has over 30 years’ experience in Dermatology and is heading up the new service at Action Cancer said: “The majority of people in NI have pale skin that tends to freckle and burn easily. Episodes of sun burning and tanning will increase your risk of skin cancer.

Unfortunately, in Northern Ireland we have high usage of sunbeds and with the introduction of low-cost airlines, trips abroad to Europe and beyond are more accessible.

Since the service became operational in January earlier this year we have conducted 388 consultations to date, including 246 virtual assessments. We detected several suspect Basal Cell Carcinoma and referred to the patients’ GP for further action. We also made 27 referrals to Dermatology in secondary care due to suspect Melanoma or Squamous Cell Carcinoma.”

One of these referred was 45-year-old, mum of two Carol Marshall from Bangor. Carol is Communications Manager at Musgrave NI whose brands SuperValu and Centra support the Big Bus.

Carol said; “I’ve had concerns about a mole which was hard to monitor and was playing on my mind so when I heard that the new service was up and running, I decided to book an appointment through the Action Cancer website. Following an initial online consultation, the skin cancer specialist nurse at Action Cancer noted some pigmentation in the mole so I was referred for further assessment.  I’ve now thankfully had the mole removed.

As well as examining the mole in question, the specialist nurse also does a full body check which is very reassuring. I came away with really helpful literature showing me what to look out for in the future.

I cannot recommend the service enough. If you are concerned about something on your skin, I’d strongly encourage you to contact Action Cancer.”

Sharon Gallagher, Deputy Secretary in the Department of Health added:

“The roll out of this service to Action Cancer is an extension of what is a very successful pathway currently available in 96% of GP practices in Northern Ireland.  Providing additional routes for patients to access services will not only help alleviate pressures on hospital waiting lists, but give patients more timely access to diagnosis and treatment plans.

Initiatives like the Dermatology Photo Triage pathway, highlight the importance of good linkages and collaborative work between all healthcare providers. Primary care, secondary care and charities, all working together to deliver a service, which is central to the successful transformation of health and social care.”

If you are over the age of 18 and are concerned about a changing mole or lesion anywhere on your skin, please visit to see if you meet the eligibility criteria to book a virtual assessment.

Last updated 7 months 1 week ago