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More than 120 delayed breast cancer patients test positive

More than 120 women with suspected breast cancer who were not seen by a consultant within the 14-day target were later given positive diagnoses (picture posed)
SeanĂ­n Graham

MORE than 120 women with suspected breast cancer who were not seen by a consultant within the fortnight target at the Belfast trust were later given positive diagnoses.

The development comes just weeks after The Irish News revealed the trust was believed to have broken the record for the worst ever NHS performance for 'red flag' patients - with just nine per cent of possible breast cancer cases seen during the first half of January.

Women affected included those who urgently required a mammogram or fine needle biopsy testing after being classed as "urgent" by their GPs.

Former health minister Michael McGimspey asked the current minister, Simon Hamilton, in a written Assembly question for the number of confirmed diagnoses among those who faced delays.

"I am outraged to have been told that in the Belfast trust last year, 121 people were not seen on time and were later diagnosed with breast cancer," Mr McGimpsey said.

"The tone of Mr Hamilton's response was unhelpful, given the crisis that is quite clearly impacting on cancer services right across Northern Ireland.

"Targets are set for cancer treatment because there is very sound medical evidence that proves the longer a patient has to wait for treatment, the greater the risk that they may ultimately come to harm. Cancer is a vicious disease that thrives during any avoidable delay in treatment."

Officials at the Belfast trust attributed its poor performance last month to a big increase in demand following public campaigns, such as the annual breast cancer awareness month in October.

There was a public outcry in England two years ago when it that many trusts had not met breast cancer waiting time targets, with the lowest at 50 per cent. An average of 90 per cent had been seen on time however - which was still heavily criticised.

Earlier this week the Irish News reported on the scale of spiralling waiting lists across the service, with an 800 per cent increase in the number of patients waiting more than a year for their first consultant appointment.

Winter pressures also led to the cancellation of almost 650 planned operations across the five health trusts last month, which included at least four urgent cancer surgeries.

The 62-day target for treating cancer patients was also massively breached before Christmas - with the Belfast trust treating just over half its patients on time.

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