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Northern Ireland cancer waiting time statistics criticised as targets missed again in June

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Waiting times for cancer patients in Northern Ireland have again been criticised (PA)

Waiting times for cancer patients in Northern Ireland have again been criticised (PA)

PA

Waiting times for cancer patients in Northern Ireland have again been criticised (PA)

Cancer waiting time statistics in Northern Ireland have been criticised for showing little improvement in recent times after targets for patients were once again missed in June.

Alliance Party health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw said the situation with regard to diagnosis and treatment of cancer remains "grim" and said it's concerning that not enough focus is on the statistics.

"We hear regular updates, quite correctly, about the situation with regard to COVID-19, but we do not see the same level of briefing concerning general health services, not least with regard to cancer diagnosis and treatment across the board," she said.

It's after new figures showed that of 324 patients who started their first treatment for cancer in June following an urgent referral, slightly more than half (182 patients or 56.2%) were seen within 62 days.

It misses a ministerial target that says 95% of patients should be be seen within that time frame. Figures show 49.1% of patients were seen within the time frame in May, 50% in April and 55.4% the same month the previous year.

The head of care services for Cancer Focus NI Dervilia Kernaghan said the figures are showing slight improvement since NI came out of lockdown.

"However, the target for patients receiving first treatment within 62 days (95%) was still missed by nearly 40%," she said.

"We have seen how quickly our health service has pivoted to respond to the pandemic in recent months but this has come at a cost to planned and scheduled care.

"We can see the impact of recent months on our waiting times which were already unacceptable pre Covid and are calling for urgent action to address them," she said.

The figures show that in June, 713 patients commenced their first treatment for cancer following a decision to treat. 682 (95.7%) started treatment within the target of a month, compared with 94.3% in May, 95.4% in April and 93.3% the same month the previous year.

The ministerial target said that 98% of patients diagnosed with cancer should receive their first definitive treatment within 31 days of a decision to treat.

Breast cancer specialists saw 1,167 patients in June for a first assessment following an urgent referral, with 1,025 (87.8%) seen within a target of two weeks, compared with 88.4% in May, 76% in April and 80% the previous year.

The ministerial target states that all urgent breast cancer referrals should be seen within that time frame.

South Belfast MLA Ms Bradshaw said concern remains that many are being left without diagnosis or vital care.

"What we need to see in media briefings is a broader picture of how services are being restored and an assurance our focus on COVID-19, while understandable, is not so all-encompassing that vital care is missed elsewhere," she said.

Belfast Telegraph