Belfast Telegraph

Cancer fear woman waiting three months for test

By Lisa Smyth

A woman who may have cancer has waited over three months just for a simple test to find out whether she has the deadly disease, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

It has emerged there is a backlog of patients who may have bowel cancer waiting for a diagnosis so they can begin treatment in the Northern Health & Social Care Trust.

The situation has become so dire that one patient who may have bowel cancer has been waiting since April for a colonoscopy — a procedure where a tiny camera is inserted into the rectum to see whether there is any cancer present.

And the trust has said it could be several months before the crisis is brought under control.

Dr Allen McCullough said he made an urgent referral of a patient — who is experiencing symptoms of bowel cancer — for further tests three months ago.

“This particular patient contacted me to say they had not been sorted out so I chased it up and was told there is such a backlog that the trust has no idea when she will be seen,” he explained.

“It is absolutely unacceptable. When you make a red flag referral, which means you suspect they may have cancer, you would like to think your patient will be seen by the relevant consultant and be on the right path to a diagnosis within a fortnight.”

It is the latest damning indictment of healthcare in Northern Ireland — and comes after a leading UK doctor hit out at waiting times for hospital appointments in Northern Ireland.

In March, Dr Laurence Buckman, chair of the British Medical Association's (BMA) GP committee, said he was disturbed patient safety here is frequently compromised due to long waits.

Dr McCullough continued: “Dr Buckman is right although when you have worked in the system for so long you tend to forget how bad it is.

“It is only when something like this happens that you sit up and realise that our waiting list system isn’t working.

“As far as I am concerned there isn’t a problem with capacity, this is a problem caused by poor management.

“I referred this patient and she was seen by a consultant but not one that could deal with her particular problem so she had to wait see another doctor who could.

“As far as waiting list targets go, this patient has been seen in time because she has had an appointment with a hospital doctor but in reality that simply isn’t the case.

“We are talking about people who are potentially very seriously ill, every day counts in terms of the outcome of their condition, and it’s simply not good enough.”

Dr McCullough said he believes delays facing his patients prove that they are being managed by people who have no medical experience.

“No consultant would ask to see a patient knowing they couldn’t help them so the people making the decisions about appointments mustn’t have any clinical experience,” he said.

A spokeswoman from the trust said they are not currently meeting the agreed regional targets for colorectal cancer waiting times but said the situation is not unique to the trust.

“In order to reduce waiting times we have recruited consultant, medical and nursing staff to fill vacancies and cover sick leave,” she said.

“We would expect the waiting times will reduce in the coming months.”

A spokesman from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety said: “The Health Minister has made clear that he expects the Health and Social Care Board working with all trusts to ensure that waiting times for diagnostic tests, including those tests intended to determine the presence of cancer, are addressed as a matter of urgency.”

Background

The British Medical Association in Northern Ireland has called for clarification on how £10m is to be spent on addressing the waiting list crisis here. The £10m is part of a £24.2m package allocated to the Department of Health in the June monitoring round.

But oversight body, the Health & Social Care Board, has been unable to provide any detail of how the money will be spent.

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