A leading cancer charity has called for more staff to help reduce waiting times for cancer patients in Northern Ireland.
Margaret Carr, Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager for Northern Ireland said a new cancer strategy was needed alongside new staff to help patients be seen more quickly.
Between January and March the percentage of patients with an urgent referral for a suspicion of cancer that started treatment within 62 days, ranged from 66.9% to 75.4%.
All health trusts missed the 95% target for the quarter.
Mrs Carr said that the target, set in 2009, has never been met across Northern Ireland.
Of the 85 patients waiting longer than 62 days for treatment in March 2018, two fifths were diagnosed with urological cancer.
The lastest figures show that in March, 846 patients commenced their first treatment for cancer following a decision to treat, compared with 711 in February 2018 and 793 in March 2017.
However, The Ministerial target of 98% was not met.
In March, 96.7% of patients were treated within 31 days compared with 93.1% in February 2018 and 94.2% during March 2017.
The Ministerial target of treatment within 14 days for breast cancer referrals was met in March with 1,276 patients seen by a breast cancer specialist following an urgent referral for suspect breast cancer.
This compared to 1,232 in February 2018 and 1,491 during March 2017.
All patients were first seen within 14 days, compared with 99.8% in February 2018 and 86.0% during March 2017.
“Waiting times targets are important. They are there to reassure patients they are being treated as a priority and are a barometer of how well services are coping," Mrs Carr said.
“These latest statistics show there is a significant number of patients who are not being seen in time. This is a reflection of a service under significant pressure.
“We know that local hospitals make every effort to meet targets, but diagnostic staff shortages put services under severe strain. In what is the 70th year of the health service, more staff are needed to deliver the life-saving tests and treatments people need.
“A cancer strategy which includes action to assess and address staff shortages is desperately needed in Northern Ireland if patients are to be seen more quickly.”