By Lauren Harte
November 20 2018
Only 11.9% of urgent breast cancer referrals were seen within two weeks during September at one of Northern Ireland’s health trusts.
New figures have revealed that the longest wait endured by a patient with an urgent referral in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust was 44 days.
Compared to April this year, when 100% of urgent referrals within the trust area were seen within 14 days, the situation in the five months since has collapsed.
Initially it fell to 84% in May, slumping to just 59% by July and then collapsing by 40% in just one month to 19% in August.
Northern Ireland’s six healthcare trusts aim to have 100% of urgent breast cancer referrals seen within 14 days.
Ulster Unionist health spokesperson Roy Beggs said it is “totally unfair” for patients who think they may have cancer to wait so long.
He said: “I have been told that the cause of the deterioration has been a gap between capacity and patient demand and, even though the trust has been undertaking some additional activity, because of a shortage of staff and others on annual leave, the situation worsened and a backlog of patients accumulated as a result.”
Meanwhile, chief executive of Action Cancer Gareth Kirk said the latest figures are disappointing and concerning.
He added: “Unfortunately the long-term trend is one of increasing waiting times across all trust areas. Clearly urgent action involving all stakeholders is required to address this issue.
“We are, however, pleased to note that both the Northern Trust and the HSCB are urgently attempting to address what is currently an appalling situation for all women concerned.”
The Northern Trust said that from the end of October, 100% of patients were being seen within 14 days of receiving referrals.
A spokesperson explained that the normal 14-day referral period came back into force after it secured additional “in-house assessment clinics” in a neighbouring trust and in Antrim.
Over the summer, the trust added there was a “high level” of demand for breast assessment services, which had resulted in a longer wait for some of its patients.
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