Warning that 'breast cancer progress in Northern Ireland is stalling' as treatment delays continue
CANCER centres are continuing to miss targets for treatment and referrals, with almost a third of patients treated in June having waited more than two months following urgent referrals from GPs.
The latest figures from the Department of Health come as a new report says there are "clear warning signs that breast cancer progress in Northern Ireland is stalling".
Only 68 per cent of patients with an urgent referral for suspected cancer started treatment within 62 days during the last quarter - significantly below the 95 per cent target.
The target was set in 2009 and has never been met.
Of 1,940 new referrals for suspected breast cancer in June, 1,398 went on to be classified as urgent.
Support charities have accused the health service of "letting down" patients at a time when they are already anxious and called for support from the Department of Health for "overextended" trusts.
Margaret Carr of Cancer Research UK said the figures show "just how much our diagnostic services are stretched".
"Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that does not have an up-to-date cancer strategy," she said.
"With more people than ever before being diagnosed with cancer, the situation is unacceptable and must be resolved urgently, but without an Executive and Assembly, any progress is limited and so patients continue to lose out.
"Patients must be diagnosed and treated early if they are to have the best chance of survival."
Roisin Foster of Cancer Focus Northern Ireland also said the continuing failure to meet targets for patients awaiting treatment is of major concern.
"Our health service is letting these people down at an already worrying time.
"Early diagnosis and treatment saves lives (which) is being compromised by these very worrying statistics.
"We know that our health trusts are already under extreme pressure, what support they will be receiving to help them address this worrying situation?"
A report by Breast Cancer Now released yesterday said the north is lagging behind England and Scotland, which both have integrated cancer strategies in place to ensure the results of pioneering research reach breast cancer patients and medics.
It pointed out that the 2008 Regional Cancer Framework never had a formal evaluation published.
The charity called for "a clear plan for routinely meeting the two-week wait target to be seen by a specialist" and a review to ensure NHS-recommended medicines are available more quickly.
The report found that patients are "continuing to experience delays in routine access to the best new drugs approved across the rest of the UK" including `lifeline' drug Kadcyla which can give patients with incurable secondary breast cancer an extra six months.