Northern Ireland news

Waiting times for cancer treatment 'worrying' as health trusts miss targets

Margaret Carr, Cancer Research UK
By Mairead Holland

ALL five health trusts across Northern Ireland have again missed cancer treatment waiting time targets.

Figures released for July, August and September 2018 reveal that only 63.7 per cent of patients with an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer started treatment within 62 days.

The target of 95 per cent has never been met across Northern Ireland since it was set in 2009.

The latest waiting times have been described as "extremely disappointing" by Margaret Carr, Cancer Research UK's public affairs manager for Northern Ireland.

She said the failure to meet the 62-day target was "particularly worrying".

The Belfast trust had the worst figures, with only 48.2 per cent of patients treated within 62 days last September, followed by the South Eastern with 49.4 per cent, the Northern with 55.8 per cent, the Southern with 81.5 per cent and the Western with 85 per cent.

“Diagnostic services are struggling to meet demand due to shortfalls in staffing. Staff in the diagnostic services are working harder than ever but there's just not enough of them to tackle the backlog of patients waiting," said Ms Carr.

"Having the right levels of highly trained diagnostic staff must be a priority for the health service.

“The Department of Health has said they are looking at the possibility of creating a new cancer strategy in 2019. This is a welcome development and we need to see urgent progress to ensure more is done to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. ”

The statistics, published by the Department of Health, showed that in September last year, 369 patients began their first treatment following an urgent referral for suspected cancer.

Of these, 61.8 per cent (228 patients) started treatment within 62 days.

Meanwhile, 869 patients began receiving their first definitive treatment in September following a decision to treat. Of these, 91.8 per cent started within the target of 31 days.

In terms of breast cancer treatment, 1,100 patients were seen during September by a specialist for a first assessment following an urgent referral for suspected breast cancer.

Of these, 74.5 per cent (819) were seen within the target of 14 days.

There were 1,740 new referrals for suspected breast cancer in September, of which 1,227 were classified as urgent.

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