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Concern as cancer patients forced to wait for treatment

By Victoria O'Hara

More than 100 people suspected of having cancer had to wait longer than 62 days for treatment in Northern Ireland in a single month - breaching Government guidelines.

New figures have also revealed the number of urgent cases being treated within the waiting time target (95%) dropped by 10% within four weeks.

This has led to Cancer Research describing it as "worrying", adding that it will work with the Executive to improve the service.

The guidelines say that 95% of cases 'red-flagged' by doctors are supposed to be treated within 62 days. But the new Department of Health figures indicate that only 64.5% of patients GPs were concerned about started treatment within that period.

In September last year, 330 patients started treatment following an urgent referral for suspect cancer. However, a further breakdown showed that 117 patients had to wait over the time limit. Just under two-thirds - 213 people - were treated within the timeframe, a 10% drop compared to August. And, worryingly, an 18% drop from the same period in 2013. Gregor McNie, public affairs manager for Cancer Research UK in Northern Ireland, said: "This has been a problem for some time and the latest drop in standards is worrying.

"These targets are meant to ensure patients who are diagnosed can start their treatment as soon as possible.

"The additional psychological stresses of delayed treatment shouldn't be added to patients in already challenging situations. We'd like to work with the Executive to improve this."

In response to a recent Assembly question, Health Minister Jim Wells said that investment was being made to improve services for patients. "The Cancer Service Framework will undergo a fundamental review this year to consider the standards and associated performance levels for cancer services, and to ensure progress continues to be made," he said.

Factfile

Ministerial targets state that 95% of patients who are urgent referrals for suspect cancer should begin their treatment within 62 days. In September 2014, 330 patients started treatment within that time. Latest figures show 64.5% were treated within 62 days. But 82.2% of 304 patients were treated within 62 days in September 2013.

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