Action has been demanded after new data revealed cancer treatment waiting time targets are continuing to be missed.
On the day that thousands of nurses are taking strike action over pay and staffing levels, there are fresh calls for devolved government to be restored to tackle the crisis-hit health service.
The department of health released Northern Ireland’s cancer waiting times relating for July to September 2019 today.
They showed struggling efforts to meet targets on waiting times for patients accessing cancer services.
In September, 390 patients commenced their first treatment for cancer following an urgent referral for suspect cancer.
Of these, just 48.2% started treatment within the 62-day target. This represents a downward trajectory from 56.8% in August and 52.4% in July last year, and 62.1% in September 2018.
Margaret Carr, of Cancer Research UK, said too many people are waiting too long for cancer treatment.
She added: “Despite the best efforts of staff, this report tells us that some people in Northern Ireland are waiting too long for cancer treatment.
“This is concerning, especially as demand on cancer services is rising.
“To help our trusts cope and ensure patients are diagnosed quickly and at an earlier stage, a long-term workforce plan is urgently needed.
“This needs to address staff shortages now and in the future.”
UUP MLA Roy Beggs described the waiting times as “frightening”, and added they “illustrate the tragedy of what is happening across our health service”.
He said: “On the day that 9,000 nurses are striking, it’s blatantly obvious that action needs to be taken and taken now.
“It is a total disgrace that the ongoing impasse at Stormont is getting in the way of resolving the pressures.
“If there is no deal by Monday the Westminster Government must step in and immediately take back responsibility for health matters. Only then could there be a chance of better outcomes for local patients.”
SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan described the failure to meet targets as a “disgrace that requires urgent political attention”.
He urged politicians to “double their efforts” to agree a return of devolved government to address the issue.
He said: “These figures represent real people enduring the agony of waiting for assessment and treatment for life threatening and life limiting conditions. It isn’t good enough and we all have to face up to it.
“All parties must redouble their efforts to secure a resolution that restores inclusive, powersharing government.
“We have an unprecedented crisis in our health service. It is on its knees and we all must step up and play our part to solve it.”
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