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Cancer sufferers wait nine months to see consultant

By Lisa Smyth

A growing number of cancer patients in Northern Ireland are waiting up to nine months after their scheduled appointment date to see a consultant, a leading GP has revealed.

Branding the hospital waiting list system “a mess”, Dr Allen McCullough said the situation has been deteriorating in recent years.

But he has become particularly incensed after being told there is a seven to nine-month backlog for cancer patients to get a review appointment.

However, it has emerged a number of consultants have been employed to address the lengthy waiting times for cancer patients and are expected to take up their new posts by September.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has been forced to implement a range of cost-cutting measures, including limiting overtime and agency staff. While he said this would have a knock-on effect on waiting lists, he gave an assurance specialties, such as oncology, would not be affected.

At the same time of announcing his plans for efficiency savings earlier this year, Mr McGimpsey also announced the introduction of a new target for review appointments. However, it emerged the target only states that a patient should be seen as close as possible to the date set by the clinician.

Dr McCullough, a member of the British Medical Association Northern Ireland General Practitioners’ Committee, said: “It’s a mess. It has been a problem for the past couple of years but it is getting even worse.

“One of my patients has been treated for cancer and was waiting for their 12-month review. I rang the consultant and his secretary told me there is a backlog of up to nine months. This is a life or death situation for this patient. People cannot afford to wait in these situations.”

A spokeswoman from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety said: “While most patients will continue to have their surgery within the 13-week target, inevitably some patients will wait longer in 2010/11, for example in orthopaedics and urology, we may expect a proportion of people to wait up to 36 weeks.”

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