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Cancer patients not being seen quickly enough, warns doctor

By Victoria O'Hara

Urgent cancer referrals are getting lost in a health system that "is not efficient any more", a leading Northern Ireland doctor has warned.

The major concerns were raised after GPs said they were sending patients to emergency departments to be diagnosed with cancer because they were waiting too long for hospital appointments.

Chairman of the BMA Northern Ireland GPs committee, Tom Black, said increasingly GPs found patients were not being seen quickly enough.

"An emergency department is the last place you want to send your patients but sometimes you don't have any choice," he said.

"If you suspect a patient may have cancer then you make a red flag referral, which means that person should be seen by a consultant quickly.

"However, increasingly GPs are finding red flags are getting lost in the system and patients aren't being seen quickly enough."

Dr Black said he now actively monitored all the red flag referrals he made at his Londonderry surgery.

He added: "GPs are having to follow up red flag referrals with phone calls to make sure the patients are seen in a timely manner.

"We just can't assume the system is going to work. It isn't efficient any more.'

The BMA warning comes after the Belfast Telegraph reported how a 70-year-old from Bangor who is in remission from renal cancer had been waiting for an urgent appointment with the urology department – her first annual review – since December 5.

The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, was told she would initially have to wait nine weeks to see a consultant – the target for outpatient appointments set by the Health Minister Edwin Poots.

But she was later told she would be waiting a further six weeks.

However, she was still waiting more than 20 weeks later. The 2013-14 ministerial waiting time target states that, from April 2013, at least 70% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment.

It also says no patient should have to wait for longer than 18 weeks.

In a statement the South Eastern Trust said the demand for the urology service "exceeds the trust capacity".

"Therefore the trust is clear that there is a requirement to expand the urology team in the South Eastern Trust.

"The trust is currently working closely with the Health and Social Care Board to secure recurrent investment into this service."

Story so far

GPs have now warned they are sending patients with urgent cancer referrals to A&E departments as they are not being treated quickly enough via hospital appointments. The 2013-14 ministerial waiting time target states that from April 2013 at least 70% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment.

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