The Ulster Unionist Party has hit out at the worsening referral times for cases of suspected breast cancer in Northern Ireland.
East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs revealed that only 23% of “red flag” patients were seen by a consultant within the 14 day target in the Northern Trust area in June 2019, the third month in a row the guideline has been breached.
As demand continually exceeds capacity, Mr Beggs expressed his fears for the wellbeing of those left waiting. He said: “It is well known that early diagnosis and treatment saves lives and for many cancer patients and their families, time is unfortunately a luxury that very few can afford. Cancer is a particularly cruel and unpredictable disease so there should be no opportunity for or tolerance of delays.”
It was revealed last September that only 12% of all urgent breast cancer referrals were seen within 14 days, a statistic that later recovered to 100%.
“This is an appalling situation”, said Mr Beggs, as he called for the restoration of power-sharing to allow for local ministerial guidance. The UUP Health spokesperson urged Secretary of State Julian Smith to intervene.
“If there was a local Health Minister in place they would rightly be held to account for what has happened and be forced explain what immediate steps they were taking to put it right. But with no Minister and no local Executive, our local health service is largely leaderless just when it is in greatest need of strong and decisive leadership.
“The previous Secretary of State repeatedly failed to intervene to protect the interests of local patients. It is my sincere hope that the new Secretary of State recognises that patients are being woefully let down as a result of the delays in the local health service.
“Experience has shown that having the five Trusts managing separate services is failing patients. We need better overall workforce planning. We need a more joined up assessment service so that individual patients from one Trust area are not forced to suffer to this extent as a result of the absence of a member of staff.”
Mr Beggs also advised that in the absence of a local minister, a direct rule minister should intervene to enact vital improvements in the health service.
His comments come as breast assessment services in the region are out for public consultation.
Recently extended until 30 August, the proposals would see breast cancer assessment centres reduced from five to three, consolidated to the Altnagelvin, Antrim area and Ulster Hospitals. Currently operating centres in Belfast City Hospital and Craigavon would close.
Experts believe consolidating the service to fewer sites would enhance the quality of care and prevent medical expertise being spread too thinly.
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