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Trusts failing to hit cancer care targets

By Catherin Lynagh

Northern Ireland’s hospitals “need to get their acts together” after it was revealed that target times to treat cancer patients are not being met.

Department of Health guidelines state that all breast cancer patients should be seen by a breast cancer specialist within 14 days.

But figures show that between October and December of last year, that target was not met by hospitals here.

In October 93.7% of patients were seen within 14 days, in November 99% were within the target, and in December 99.6%.

Targets were also not met in the same period for patients receiving their first definitive treatment after an urgent referral for suspected cancer.

According to the figures, 95% of patients with an urgent referral should begin their treatment within 62 days.

The results have been criticised by politicians and cancer charities.

Former deputy chairperson of the Assembly health committee, Michelle O’Neill, said the trusts must do better.

“The department and health trusts need to get their acts together and be better responsive to the needs of cancer patients,” she said.

“There needs to be much more emphasis put on patient care.”

UUP health spokesperson John McCallister said he had warned of these consequences.

“This is a very important target to miss. We said the cuts were going to impact on services and they have.

“Treating cancer patients early on is hugely important.”

Heather Monteverde, general manager of Macmillan Cancer Support NI, said: “Cancer provision in Northern Ireland has come a long way under devolution, but Macmillan wants every cancer patient to be referred, diagnosed and treated within the waiting times.”

Liz Atkinson, Head of Care Services at the Ulster Cancer Foundation, said: “Unfortunately as we are faced with an ageing population and increasing numbers of people diagnosed with cancer, the pressure for hospitals to meet target times is intense.

“However, we understand that for patients this is a very worrying and anxious time. A cancer diagnosis is extremely stressful and any additional waiting or delay in treatment time only adds to this feeling of stress.

“It is important therefore that any resources for cancer services are not reduced and are protected to ensure the best possible outcome for patients.”


In October 2010 a total of 829 patients were first seen by a breast cancer specialist in 14 days. Over half — 54.6%, or 453 — of all patients were seen in either the Belfast or Western Trusts. The total number of patients seen rose to 860 in November 2010. During the month of October 2010, of the 209 patients that commenced treatment for cancer following an urgent referral, 179 (85.6%) were treated within 62 days.

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