Belfast Telegraph

Waiting times rise for urgent referrals in Northern Ireland

By Victoria Leonard

Waiting times for urgent referrals to begin breast cancer treatment in Northern Ireland have increased over the past year.

All of Northern Ireland's health trusts have again missed the urgent referral target to start treatment for 95% of patients with suspected cancer within 62 days.

The target, set in 2009, has never been met.

Figures released by the Department of Health show that only 68.4% of patients with an urgent referral started treatment within the target time during the last quarter (April to June 2017).

The South Eastern Health Trust was the worst-performing body, with only 53.4% of patients commencing their first treatment for suspected cancer within 62 days.

The Belfast Trust was second worst, with a 60.7% rate.

The best-performing area was the Western Trust, where 88.6% of patients began treatment within the time frame.

Of the 387 patients who started treatment following an urgent referral for suspected cancer in June 2017, 69% (267 patients) started treatment within 62 days, compared with 71.9% during the same month last year.

Of the 874 patients who started their first cancer treatment following a decision to treat in June, 94.5% were treated within the 31-day target, compared with 93.2% in June 2016.

Additionally, in June 2017, 85.6% of the 1,329 patients seen by a breast cancer specialist for a first assessment following an urgent referral for suspected breast cancer were seen within the 14-day target. This represented an increase of more than a fifth compared with June 2016.

Chief executive of Cancer Focus Northern Ireland Roisin Foster stated: "The continuing failure to meet targets set for cancer patients waiting for treatment is of major concern.

"We believe that our health service is letting these people down at an already worrying time.

"Our message that early diagnosis and treatment saves lives is being compromised by these very worrying statistics."

Cancer Research UK's public affairs manager for Northern Ireland Margaret Carr said: "Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that does not have an up-to-date cancer strategy.

"With more people than ever before being diagnosed with cancer, the situation is unacceptable and must be resolved urgently.

"But without an Executive and Assembly, any progress is limited and so patients continue to lose out. Patients must be diagnosed and treated early if they are to have the best chance of survival."

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