An elderly woman has spoken of her fear of being "left in limbo" after waiting over 20 weeks for an urgent referral for a cancer check-up at the Ulster Hospital.
The 70-year-old from Bangor who is in remission from renal cancer, has been waiting for an appointment with the urology department –her first annual review – since December 5.
The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, was told she would initially have to wait nine weeks to see a consultant – the target for outpatient appointments set by the Health Minister Edwin Poots.
But she was later told she would be waiting further six weeks.
However, she is still waiting over 20 weeks later.
"My GP had sent it as an urgent referral to the hospital and I rang up the hospital and was told their target was nine weeks," she said. "I then wrote to Edwin Poots who told me he was happy with the 15-week wait.
But she faced a further "frustrating and worrying" wait.
"Then I heard nothing and contacted my MLA. And when it came to waiting 20 weeks I wrote to Edwin Poots again."
The 2013-14 ministerial waiting time target states that from April 2013 at least 70% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment.
It also says no patient should wait longer than 18 weeks, increasing to 80% by March 2014 and no one waiting longer than 15 weeks.
In a letter seen by the Belfast Telegraph from the Department of Health dated March 7, 2014, she was told: "The South Eastern (HSC) Trust has maintained a target wait of nine weeks for a number of years; however an increase in demand for urgent urology appointments has resulted in waiting times for routine appointments being extended to 15 weeks which is within the target for first appointments set by the minister."
But in a second letter dated April 14, the Department of Health told the woman: "Unfortunately due to an increase in red flag referrals the South Eastern Health and Social Care (HSC) Trust has advised that waiting times have been extended for routine outpatient appointments to 26 weeks, with urgent appointments currently being 20 weeks."
She explained she faced a "dead end" after asking for help through the Patient Client Council and political representatives.
"I contacted the Patient and Client Council and my MLA and they did look into it but I have basically been told there is nothing they can do. I just have to wait."
The woman said it has added to her frustration after battling cancer.
"I had it for four years before they found it. I had the pain but they couldn't find the problem.
"I had around 17 hospital appointments before they finally found the cancer. I had been to see so many different consultants."
She added: "I'm worried, every now and then if you feel a pain at all you think, is this pain coming back? It has been and still is very stressful.
"But it is the fact I have been pushed from pillar to post and the goalposts have been moved – it is just not right."
In a statement, the trust said it could not give an "exact time frame" for when the patient will be offered an appointment.
The trust said: "Demand for the urology service exceeds the trust capacity and therefore the trust is clear that there is a requirement to expand the urology team in the South Eastern Trust.
"The trust is currently working closely with the Health and Social Care Board to secure recurrent investment into this service."