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Belfast fails 'red flag' breast cancer patients

Concerns over delays for suspected breast cancer cases in Belfast have been branded unacceptable
Seann Graham

BREAST cancer targets for urgent cases are being missed on a massive scale in the north's biggest trust - with fewer than one in five women seen within the recommended two weeks.

Figures obtained by The Irish News show that just 16 per cent of women with suspected breast cancer - classed as 'red flag' patients by their GPs - got an appointment with a consultant at the Belfast health trust in April.

A leaked 'performance report' due to be presented tomorrow by the Health and Social Care Board reveals the "deterioration" in the Belfast service, which is linked to increased demand and a "capacity gap".

Women who warrant urgent testing, such as a mammogram and needle biopsy, are being seen within the 14-day target across the north's other four trusts.

Officials at the Belfast trust said they are treating the problem "very seriously" and have set up extra clinics since March to tackle the backlog.

A spokeswoman added that the maximum waiting time is 28 days.

But a leading GP last night said he had received a letter from the Belfast trust informing him of a "five-week wait" for one of his red-flag breast cancer patients.

Dr Michael McKenna, who is based in the west of the city and has more than 20 years' experience, said the delays are unacceptable.

"When there is a suspected cancer and guidelines are set down to see that patient, then they should be seen in that time," he said.

"The waiting and uncertainty for patients who may have cancer is the worst part of the diagnostic process.

"It is has got to the stage where we have the worst waiting times in Europe across all specialties, it's a disgrace. I'm at the point where I am writing two letters for an urgent patient - one for a referral and another to expedite the process."

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