Waiting times for cancer patients in Northern Ireland frightening, says Ulster Unionist leader
Fewer than half of patients given an urgent referral due to suspected cancer began their treatment within the target time of 62 days in September, the Ulster Unionist leader has revealed.
The official target is 95% treated within 62 days.
"These are frightening figures that expose the sheer scale of the human tragedy engulfing our local health service," Steve Aiken, who was himself diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2014, said.
"Cancer is a cruel and vicious disease. It's one that thrives in any opportunity of a vacuum or delay, and that is what makes the revelation that less than half of cancer patients in September were seen within the standard 62 day target so tragic. The problem is especially bad in the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust where only 33% of patients started treatment on time."
The East Antrim Westminster candidate said action needs to be taken "and taken now", adding that "the next Westminster Government needs to step in and immediately take back responsibility for health matters".
He added: "Whilst I was fortunate to have been diagnosed quite early on - something I will forever be grateful to my wife for pressing me to visit the doctor - unfortunately for far too many cancer patients now they are simply being failed by a system no longer able to cope.
"Even those that do suspect quite early on that there may be something wrong are having to wait far too long for diagnostic tests and for treatment to begin."
A spokeswoman for the Department for Health said last night: "Cancer waiting figures underline once again the need to reshape services.
"The department is committed to taking forward key initiatives including the development of a new cancer strategy for Northern Ireland which will be available for ministerial consideration and public consultation in June 2020."