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Northern Ireland cancer patients hit by delays after equipment failure

By Lisa Smyth

Some of the most gravely ill people in Northern Ireland are facing even more misery as health bosses struggle to repair a broken radiotherapy machine.

Cancer patients from across Northern Ireland are being subjected to a delay of up to four hours every day for treatment as they fight the deadly disease.

The Belfast Health & Social Care Trust said efforts are under way to repair the broken radiotherapy machine — known as a linear accelerator — at Belfast City Hospital.

One elderly patient, who has bowel cancer, explained: “I think it absolutely dreadful.

“The machine has been broken for the past three weeks and no-one has been able to tell us when it will be working again. They keep saying they are having problems getting the parts they need.”

She continued: “I live in Banbridge and have been getting radiotherapy every day for the past three weeks and the machine has been broken, which means patients are waiting for hours to get their treatment.

“You have an appointment for 2pm and it ends up that it is 5pm before you get your radiotherapy.

“Patients are still there at 9pm and the staff are run off their feet trying to make sure everyone is seen. It’s terrible for them and it’s terrible for the patients. It’s hard enough when you have cancer without this as well.

“You arrive for your appointment and then one of the nurses tells you they are running three or four hours behind. You have to sit there all day without anything to eat. It’s very distressing.

“You have people driving up from Derry in the morning for their appointment and by the time they are seen and get back home it is time to go to bed.

“Then you wake up in the morning and start all over again. There are people there who are much more sick than me, with brain cancer, bone cancer. I think it’s criminal.”

Deputy chair of the Stormont health committee Jim Wells (below) said: “I am disappointed at the handling of this situation by the trust, who surely could have put some measures in place to ensure the patient experience was not compromised.”

A spokeswoman from the trust said: “Unfortunately, one of the eight linear accelerators is out of clinical use due to a fault.

“The other seven linear accelerators remain in use and no patient treatment has been delayed.

“The engineers are currently working on it and we hope to have it back in commission as soon as possible.”

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Radiotherapy, also known as radiation treatment, is the controlled use of high energy X-rays to treat many different types of cancer. About four out of 10 people with cancer have radiotherapy. In some cases, radiotherapy can also be used to treat benign (non-cancerous) tumours. The length of each course of radiotherapy will depend on the size and type of cancer and where it is in the body.

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