Northern Ireland news

Stormont Executive needed now, charities warn as cancer waiting targets missed

Statement by Health Minister Robin Swann on Independent Neurology Inquiry Report Picture by HUgh Russell.
Connla Young

THERE have been demands for the DUP to end its Stormont boycott following "appalling" cancer waiting times, as targets were missed again.

Cancer charities have also urged politicians to do more after the release of shocking new figures.

Statistics released by the Department of Health for January, February and March show that key targets continue to be missed by health chiefs.

In March this year, only 48 per cent of patients started their first treatment for cancer after an urgent referral within the 62-day target. The department states that 95 per cent of patients should begin treatment within 62 days after an urgent GP referral. The figures show that in the same month 872 patients commenced their first treatment for cancer following a decision to treat being taken.

Ian Knox cartoon 1/7/22 

Of that number 772, or 88.5 per cent, started treatment within 31 days. The ministerial target on waiting times states that at least 98 per cent of patients diagnosed with cancer should receive their first definitive treatment within 31 days of a decision to treat.

Of people with suspected breast cancer, 43.6 per cent were seen by a specialist for first assessment within 14 days.

Health Minister Robin Swann's target states that “all urgent breast cancer referrals” should be seen within that time frame.

Richard Spratt, CEO of Cancer Focus NI, said his charity is "dismayed at this repeated failure to meet the department’s own waiting time targets".

"The ongoing collapse of the Stormont executive has created unnecessary worry around the long-term budgetary planning necessary to implement the new Cancer Strategy," he said.

"Cancer Focus NI expects an urgent commitment from all ministers to guarantee recurring funding to deliver the strategy’s recommendations immediately. This was our key ask for our politicians at the recent assembly elections and the public need and demand delivery.”

Sarah Christie, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for Macmillan in the north said "people are being let down time and time again by their political representatives".

"The health system is falling apart, despite the best efforts of our hardworking healthcare professionals, and our recent Cancer Workforce in Northern Ireland census highlights the challenges facing an invaluable workforce that is under extreme pressure," she said.

"We are at a critical point in time, we need an executive now to deliver the multi-year funding needed for the strategy.”

SDLP health spokesperson Colin McGrath said cancer patients are being failed as a result of the DUP’s continued boycott of the Stormont institutions.

“Nobody is arguing that a restored assembly and executive would transform our broken health system overnight, but the current situation leaves us powerless to take any action at all," he said.

Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew said "cancer patients are being left behind because of one party's refusal to work with others to make politics work".

"We need an executive up and running today to start investing an extra £1 billion in our health service to tackle waiting lists, recruit more doctors and nurses, fund mental health and cancer services and transform our health service," he said.

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