Northern Ireland news

Concern over cancer diagnosis waiting times following release of Department of Health data

Margaret Carr of Cancer Research UK has said new waiting times data for cancer diagnosis are 'deeply concerning'.
Paul Ainsworth

HOSPITAL waiting list figures for the north have been described as "deeply concerning" as data shows over a quarter of people needing for a diagnostic test for cancer have been waiting for more than 26 weeks.

New quarterly figures from Stormont's Department of Health show that around 73,800 people were waiting for a cancer diagnostic test at the end of March, with 26 per cent of them waiting over 26 weeks, and 48 per cent waiting more than nine weeks.

The data also shows that the number of people waiting to be admitted to hospital in all cases at the end of March was 10.4 per cent higher than the same time last year, while those waiting for a first outpatient appointment was 7.1 higher.

Speaking of the diagnostic figures, Margaret Carr, of the NI branch of Cancer Research UK, said too many people were waiting to find out if they have cancer "despite the tireless efforts of health service staff".

She said: "This is deeply concerning as we know delays may make it more difficult to treat cancer successfully.

"Northern Ireland’s 10-year cancer strategy, published in March, is the roadmap to transforming cancer services and improving outcomes for cancer patients. But these desperately needed changes can’t be made without an Executive to provide the budget for implementation.

"Longstanding, chronic staff shortages are at the heart of patient delays and we need to see urgent action now to turnaround cancer services. Years of underinvestment in diagnostic staff and diagnostic equipment has meant cancer services can’t keep up with demand. And the number of people waiting for diagnostic tests continues to grow.

“Without an Executive to agree funding for the cancer strategy, the impact on patients and their families could be devastating as staff shortages take their toll and health services are unable to take advantage of the latest equipment, tests and treatments."

On Wednesday, health minister Robin Swann said his department was setting out a range of important initiatives to tackle hospital waiting lists, including securing an additional £46 million to deal with the problem.

Describing cutting waiting times as a "Herculean task", the minister said: "The realistic outlook for our overall waiting times position is a period of slowing growth before ultimately a sustained reversal as the decisions already taken on staffing and other investments in capacity begin to come to fruition."

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news