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Cancer waiting time targets missed as treatment falls by 7%

By Victoria O'Hara

Key cancer waiting times are being missed in Northern Ireland with the number of urgently referred patients starting vital treatment within a 62-day target dropping by 7% in 12 months, new figures have revealed.

The government targets state that 95% of patients 'red flagged' as an urgent case by a GP with suspected cancer should not wait any longer than two months for treatment.

But new figures published by the Department of Health show that in December 2013 the target was met in only 81.7% of cases.

And 12 months later this slipped by a further 7% to just 74.7% of cases, leading to the Health Minister to describe it as a "serious concern".

The latest figures showed that last December, 236 patients started treatment for cancer within the 62-day time limit. But 80 people with cancers including lung, skin, breast and urological cancer faced a wait of more than two months - breaching the target.

In urgent breast cancer cases, the health board targets that urgent referrals take place within 14 days, but this also dropped within three months.

In October, all 1,085 patients who needed to see a consultant were treated in two weeks. But by December the 100% performance dropped by 4% and 42 patients across Northern Ireland were left waiting for treatment. The figures come as it was revealed that survival rates in Northern Ireland for lung, breast, colon and stomach cancer are 10 years behind other European countries. And nearly one person every hour in Northern Ireland receives the devastating news that they have cancer.

Macmillan Cancer Support research showed that Northern Ireland survival rates for lung and prostate cancer were edging above other nations and regions. Overall, though, the statistics are in line with the rest of the UK. Medical experts have also warned that cancer services in Northern Ireland are under severe pressure amid health budget cuts and growing demand.

Health Minister Jim Wells said it was "disappointing" that the 62-day urgent referral to treat standard was not being achieved right across Northern Ireland.

He said: "I expect the Health and Social Care Board and each trust to ensure the necessary service improvements are made to deliver against this standard and to work together to improve performance from its current unacceptable levels. This remains a serious concern."

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