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Just half of Northern Ireland cancer patients seen within target time

No health trust have ever met the target cancer treatment waiting times since they were set
No health trust have ever met the target cancer treatment waiting times since they were set

Just over half of patients in Northern Ireland started cancer treatment within the target waiting time in June, according to new figures.

Statistics from the Department of Health (DoH) show that 55.4% of patients had their first treatment following an urgent referral for suspected cancer within the 62 day target.

This amounted to 180 people out of a total of 325 and is a drop of around 15% from the same period last year.

Ministerial targets state that 95% of patients urgently referred for suspected cancer should start their treatment within 62 days.

This target, set in 2009, has never been met by any health trust in Northern Ireland.

Margaret Carr of Cancer Research UK said a lack of specialist staff is one reason for the problem.

“It’s now become the norm in Northern Ireland for patients to wait too long for the tests they need. Waiting for tests to find out whether you have cancer, and then for treatment to start, is an anxious time and this situation is unacceptable," she said.

“Not having enough specialist staff to diagnose cancer is contributing to long waits. In addition to filling vacancies, our Trusts should also turn their attention to innovative initiatives that are cost effective and will help future proof cancer services.

"Extending clinic hours or looking at ways to reduce the numbers of those who do not attend their appointments are just some of the ways that could help alleviate the strain.

“To ensure patients are diagnosed quickly and at an earlier stage, it’s vital we see action soon.”

Figures show that ministerial targets have also been missed in relation to assessments for suspected breast cancer.

Targets state that all urgent breast cancer referrals should be seen within 14 days.

In June this year, 80% of patients were seen within 14 days - amounting to 1,042 out of 1,303 patients.

This is a drop of 14.1% from the same period last year.

Dervilia Kernaghan of Cancer Focus NI said that, with an ageing population and increased incidence of cancer, pressure on Northern Ireland health services is likely to continue.

“We acknowledge how stretched the health service is and we have consistently called for investment in our cancer services," she said.

"To this end we are supporting the development of the department’s new cancer strategy which is due for publication next year.

"Cancer Focus NI’s vision is for a new comprehensive and well-resourced approach to address these issues faced by cancer patients in a systemic, robust and sustained manner.”

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