Northern Ireland news

Robin Swann challenged to make sure children do not wait for cancer appointment

More than 17,000 children are waiting to see a consultant for their first time as waiting list crisis deepens
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

The health minister has been urged to make sure that no children in Northern Ireland with confirmed or suspected cancers are left waiting for a first hospital appointment.

During ministerial question time at Stormont, Robin Swann conceded that the majority of people are being failed because of a hospital waiting lists crisis.

The remarks followed the publication of a report by the Children’s Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma which examined the number of children and young people on waiting lists, and the length of time they wait to access first or review appointments with consultants, for treatment in hospitals.

Her review found that more than 17,000 children were waiting more than a year to see a hospital consultant for the first time.

It also reported that 24 children with confirmed or suspected cancers had to wait over a year for a first appointment.

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath challenged the health minister over the report in the Assembly.

He said: “We heard today harrowing news about the number of young people who are waiting for a first appointment with a consultant.

“Would the minister agree with me that we are failing our children?”

Mr Swann responded: “I will agree that we are failing most of society in Northern Ireland with regards to waiting lists.

“Today’s report by NICCY (Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People), which my officials have been engaged with in its publication and its production, was really about highlighting the challenges across the entirety of our health and social care system in regards to how we are letting down a large number of patients.

“More needs to be done, we need more recurrent investment, we need support of our staff. We are now paying the price of 10 years of underfunding as well.”

Mr McGrath said: “The report referred to 24 young people that have been waiting a year with a red flag diagnosis with cancer.

“That must be some of the most distressing times for children, parents and families.

“Would the minister undertake that today, or at latest tomorrow, if there are children with a red flag case of suspected cancer, that they will see a specialist in the next 24 to 48 hours?”

The minister said: “I have already asked all the trusts to review those waiting times to make sure that there is an accuracy to what has been reported in the timeline.

“The current information coming from at least one of our trusts would show that there are no children waiting, that is within the Belfast Trust area, but I want to seek that reassurance from across other trusts.”

Later, Mr Swann issued a statement to say as of September there were no red flag paediatric patients waiting more than 52 weeks.

He said waiting time had "clearly been unacceptable" before the coronavirus pandemic, but have since been exacerbated by the devastating impact of Covid-19.

"The data in relation to paediatric red flags referred to in the NICCY report was correct as of April 2021," he said.

"Based on September monitoring information there are no red flag paediatric patients waiting more than 52 weeks.

"Addressing waiting lists remains a top priority for me however it will require systemic change and long term investment."

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