Northern Ireland news

Charity's concerns over increasing number of cancer patients waiting for first treatment

Figures show just 54 per cent of cancer patients received their first treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral in June
Suzanne McGonagle and Marie Louise McConville

A CANCER charity has spoken of its disappointment at latest figures, which show just 54 per cent of patients received their first treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral in June.

Under a ministerial target, 95 per cent of patients should begin their first treatment for cancer within 62 days.

Department of Health figures show in May, 50.1 per cent of patients began first cancer treatment following referral, 54.9 per cent in April and 56.2 per cent in June 2020.

However, figures for patients who began their first treatment for cancer following a decision to treat improved over the last quarter with 93.4 per cent of patients in June receiving treatment within the 31-day target, while statistics for urgent referrals for suspected breast cancer show that in June, 71.2 per cent were seen by a specialist for a first assessment within the 14-day target.

But Richard Spratt from Cancer Focus NI said "yet again, large numbers of local cancer patients have not been seen within the department’s own target dates".

"This has been a consistent failure ever since these targets were set," he said.


"These statistics are not just numbers; they represent real people.

"And when patients are waiting so long for a diagnostic test or treatment, the impact on them is devastating on top of all the other stresses associated with Covid-19.

"We see and hear this daily in our work supporting local patients and their families throughout their cancer journey, and our hearts go out to them."

Meanwhile, women from some of the most deprived areas are being urged to prioritise their own health to ensure faster diagnosis of, and treatment for, breast cancer.

While eight out of 10 women from more advantaged backgrounds accept their invitations to attend breast screening, the figure falls to four out of 10 for women living in certain deprived areas in the north.

The Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA) is delivering a comprehensive face-to-face, and online, breast screening awareness programme, which encourages women to be more cancer aware and attend vital screening appointments.

Deirdre Quinn from WRDA said: "Women in more disadvantaged communities often feel they don’t have time to look after themselves.

"They are too busy struggling to make ends meet or looking after their families.

"Our message to them is - prioritise yourself. Don’t ignore your screening invitation."

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