Belfast Telegraph

Staff shortages 'putting lives at risk' with longer cancer waiting times in Northern Ireland

A leading cancer charity has warned that a lack of healthcare staff in Northern Ireland is putting lives at risk through longer cancer waiting times.

The latest waiting time figures show that between April and June 2018 only 68.6% of patients in Northern Ireland with an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer started treatment within 62 days.

The target of 95% was missed by all Trusts during this period. The target, set in 2009, has never been met across Northern Ireland.

Cancer Research UK said that early detection is essential as it "gives patients a better chance of survival".

The group's Public Affairs Manager for Northern Ireland Margaret Carr called for a cancer strategy to address staff shortages.

In June only 70.4% of patients started treatment within 62 days following their urgent referral. This was an increase on 67.3% in May 2018 and 69.1% in June 2017

Of the 107 patients waiting longer than 62 days for treatment in June 2018, over 35.5% were diagnosed with cancer.

The target was also missed for the 31 day waiting period of 98%.

In June, 95.1% of patients were treated within 31 days compared with 93.2% in May 2018 and 94.6% during June 2017.

The target was achieved by the Southern and Western Trusts.

Of the 40 patients waiting longer than 31 days in June 2018, 32.5% were diagnosed with cancer.

The target for urgent breast cancer referrals was also missed.

In June, 94.1% of patients were first seen within 14 days, compared with 96.3% in May 2018 and 85.4% during June 2017

Trusts aim to have 100% of urgent breast cancer referrals seen within 14 days.

Mrs Carr said that staff were trying their best but that targets continued to be missed.

“Healthcare staff in Northern Ireland are working harder than ever to diagnose and treat people with cancer. But despite their best efforts, the 62 day target continues to be missed," she said.

“To diagnose cancer earlier and give patients a better chance at survival, we need to carry out more tests and this requires more staff. A cancer strategy which includes action to assess and address staff shortages is desperately needed in Northern Ireland if patients are to be seen more quickly.

“Waiting is an anxious time for anyone potentially facing a cancer diagnosis and it’s important this wait is minimised as much as possible.”

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