Health officials must act to address patient safety after an official report warns a shortage of nurses is contributing to rising waiting times, a leading medical union has said.
A performance report compiled by the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) cites a shortage of specialist and theatre nurses for delays in cancer patients beginning their treatments.
According to the document, 51% of patients are expected to have begun treatment for cancer within 62 days.
Rita Devlin, head of professional development at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Northern Ireland, said the report's findings are proof that health bosses must invest in the nursing workforce.
"The RCN has been warning for some time that the health service is in crisis," she said.
"The information in this performance report confirms that judgment.
"Of particular concern to the RCN are the frequent references to the negative impact of nurse staffing shortages - through a combination of sickness absence and an inability to recruit - on patient outcomes across all areas of practice, from theatre nursing to mental health.
"We have constantly highlighted the link between nurse staffing shortages, pay inequality and the health and wellbeing of our population.
"This report underlines the fact that, without adequate nurse staffing, the health service is now falling apart."
The RCN is meeting this week to decide how best to progress with industrial action after 92% of members who took part in a ballot voted for strike action in protest over pay and patient safety.
The vote turnout was 43.3%.