Belfast Telegraph

Less than half of Northern Ireland cancer patients start treatment within target time, figures reveal


There has been a failure to meet ministerial targets set for cancer waiting times (Peter Byrne/PA)
There has been a failure to meet ministerial targets set for cancer waiting times (Peter Byrne/PA)

By Eimear McGovern

Less than half of those patients who received urgent GP referrals for suspected cancer in September started their treatment within the target waiting time, it has been revealed.

Latest government statistics show another drop in people seen within the 62-day target time for cancer referrals in Northern Ireland.

Ulster Unionist heath spokesperson Roy Beggs said that of the 202 patients who waited longer than 62 days to start cancer treatment, over a third were eventually diagnosed with urological cancer.

He labelled the latest waiting times as "frightening" and said if there is no deal to restore power sharing by Monday, the UK Government must step in to take immediate control of health matters.

Just 188 patients (48.2%) of a total of 390 started treatment within two months or 62 days, compared with 234 of 377 (62.1%) the previous September.

It falls far short of a ministerial target which states 95% of patients should begin their first treatment within 62 days.

The figures show all ministerial targets on cancer waiting times failed to be met between July 2017 and September 2018.

In September, 909 patients received their first definitive treatment for cancer. Of this figure, 831 (91.4%) received their first treatment within a month of a decision to treat, compared with 816 of 890 the same month in 2018.

The ministerial target aims for at least 98% of patients to receive their treatment within a month.

MLA Roy Beggs added: "It is ridiculous that it even has to be said but saving lives from cancer must trump all other political demands and red lines. No other issue is more important than the health and well-being of our local population. It’s blatantly obvious that action needs to be taken and taken now.

Meanwhile, 1,224 patients were seen by a breast cancer specialist for a first assessment in September. Of this figure, 1,173 were seen within 14 days. In August, just 928 of 1,203 patients were seen within a fortnight.

Of the health trusts, the Southern and Western Trusts saw all patients with cancer for their first treatment within 31 days in July, more than 97% in August and just shy of 99% in September.

Meanwhile, the Northern Trust treated just 77.6% of their patients within a month in July, rising to 87.6% in September.

In Belfast, almost 90% were treated within 31 days in July, falling to 87.6% in September.

The failure to meet any of the targets has been described as a "disgrace" amid calls for politicians to redouble their efforts to restore the Stormont institutions and provide leadership to the Department of Health to tackle a growing health crisis.

It comes as almost 9,000 nurses began a second wave of strike action, with significant disruption to services.

Head of Macmillan Services for Northern Ireland Heather Monteverde said patients are continuing to face an anxious wait for cancer diagnosis.

"Consistently missed targets for cancer waiting times are once again indicative of a system struggling to cope with increasing demand, despite the efforts of healthcare professionals within all of our Trusts who continue to work tirelessly to support patients," she said.

Ms Monteverde said we need decision-markers to transform the healthcare system and implement a cancer strategy while prioritising investment and recruitment.

"Without an Assembly, people living with cancer in Northern Ireland are being disadvantaged," she said.

SDLP health spokesperson and Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan said some of the cancer waiting time figures have worsened over the past year.

"These figures represent real people enduring the agony of waiting for assessment and treatment for life threatening and life limiting conditions. It isn’t good enough and we all have to face up to it," he said.

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