Belfast Telegraph

Son of cancer patient who waited eight hours for chemo hits out at politicians

Justin McGurk and his dad, who receives treatment at Belfast City Hospital
Justin McGurk and his dad, who receives treatment at Belfast City Hospital
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

A Co Tyrone man whose elderly father is going through cancer treatment has hit out at dithering politicians after witnessing first-hand how the health service is struggling to cope.

After watching his dad Michael being put through a day-long ordeal to have a single hour of chemotherapy, Cookstown singer Justin McGurk pleaded for the millions of pounds being wasted at Stormont to be redirected to the health service to support the hundreds of families desperately needing treatment.

"My dad will be 80 on his next birthday," Justin told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Every day with him is precious to us, yet cancer patients could be waiting up to 12 hours for a chair or bed to be available so they can get their treatment while hundreds of chairs are sitting empty at Stormont.

"I was going to sit back in my waiting room chair and just say nothing and do nothing, like so many people have to, but that would just equate to more nothing.

"I'm not looking for sympathy, but someone has to step forward and point out that there's something very wrong and broken about the Northern Ireland we live in today.

"Two years and five months have passed since the collapse of the Assembly and the chairs at Stormont still lie empty, yet the chairs and beds at the City Hospital Cancer Centre are not able to cope with the demand for patients needing treatment on a daily basis."

Justin (45) is no stranger to the cancer wards, having helped his father through a previous treatment. His wife Roisin was also treated for breast cancer several years ago.

"The hospital staff are absolutely salt of the earth and faultless in all this," he said.

"Dad used to get his bloods done on the morning of same day he got treatment. His blood would then determine the strength of his chemo.

"Now he gets his blood taken the day before at home, but it still doesn't speed up the process because the demand is so high.

"On Wednesday we left Cookstown at 9.30am and arrived on time for dad's 11am appointment at Belfast City Hospital's Bridgewater Suite.

"When we got there, the waiting room was already full to capacity. Dad had his weight checked and got his blood results from the day before and then saw the oncology nurse and the dietitian as we waited to be called for treatment.

"Five hours later, at 4pm, we were told they were so busy it would be well after 5pm before there would be a chair for my dad to have his treatment. We were given two choices: wait at Bridgewater or go to ward three, where a chemo chair might become available sooner.

"We made our way to ward three and waited until after 5pm, when dad finally got a chair for his treatment to begin. We waited eight hours for one hour of treatment.

"There are currently only 14 treatment chairs at the Bridgewater Suite and 18 more in ward three - that's a total of 32 at the cancer centre.

"The wonderful and dedicated staff treat up to 100 patients per day. Some may be in their treatment chair or bed for anything from 30 minutes up to 12 hours, depending on the type of chemo.

"In no way are we alone in this situation. This happens every day while hundreds of chairs at Stormont lie empty, with those MLAs getting paid for doing nothing.

"The nurses and doctors we were seen by could not be faulted - they were more than helpful and each of them is to be commended. This is dad's second round of chemo. He had pancreatic cancer three years ago. It has now spread to his lungs and time is more precious than ever for us.

"It's clear that our hospitals are understaffed and under-resourced.

"There is an immediate need for more treatment chairs, beds and more nurses to shorten these waiting times in all our hospitals.

"Can someone tell me why the millions of pounds being wasted at Stormont cannot be redirected into our already struggling health service?

"Two elections have recently passed and what has or will change? How long do we have to wait for change?

"Do we just sit back, say nothing and let it continue with no change in sight?

"The politicians we voted for don't talk to each other, so what options are we left with?

"For the sake of people like my dad, my family and the many others who deserve better, we need something done now."

Belfast Telegraph

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