Breast cancer services in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust area are in crisis, an Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) spokesman has warned.
Roy Beggs MLA, UUP health spokesman, said he fears patients with suspected breast cancer may come to harm because of scandalous waits to be seen.
He claimed the urgent referral system has collapsed with just 11.9% of patients seen within the recommended 14-day limit in September and said he believed one patient had endured a “shocking” 44-day wait for an urgent appointment.
He said: “I’ve been aware of a deteriorating situation regarding breast cancer referrals in the Northern Trust area for some months now, but I chose not to highlight to avoid unduly raising patient concerns.
“But the current situation has become so serious, and the figures so bleak, that unless immediate action is taken I really am fearful that patients will come to harm.
“Compared to April this year when 100% of urgent referrals in the Trust 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 an appalling 19% in August.”
Mr Beggs said “terrifyingly” the Northern Health and Social Care Trust had reported that in September only 11.9% of urgent referrals were seen within 14 days – compared to the target of 100%.
He added: “Cancer is an especially cruel and vicious disease that thrives during any avoidable delay in treatment.
“It is also totally unfair to force patients who think they may have cancer to wait so long for answers.
“Targets are set for cancer treatment because there is very sound medical evidence that the longer a patient has to wait for treatment, the greater the risk that they may ultimately come to harm.
“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.”
Mr Beggs said a lack of local government left “our local health service largely leaderless and unaccountable to scrutiny”.
He added: “If there was a local Health Minister in place they would rightly be hauled to the Stormont chamber to account for what has happened and explain what immediate steps they were taking to put it right.
“If these figures occurred in England it would be a scandal, but in Northern Ireland they simply lay bare another example of the deep cracks opening across our health service.
“It is ridiculous that the Secretary of State continues to put her fanciful policy of hoping for the DUP and Sinn Fein will come together to break the political stalemate ahead of looking after the genuine and urgent needs of local patients.
“We need a government and an accountable Health Minister in place to drive improvements in our health service.
“If this is not being provided by a local Executive, then the Secretary of State and our Westminster Government have a duty to citizens to step in and appoint one.”
A spokesperson for the Northern Health Social Care Trust said: “Over the summer months the Northern Trust experienced a high level of demand for breast assessment that was far in excess of the Trust’s capacity to see all patients within 14 days of referral. This resulted in an increased number of patients waiting greater than 14 days to be seen in the breast clinic.
“The Trust took action to address this position by securing additional in-house breast assessment clinics in Antrim and also in a neighbouring Trust and as a result, October’s performance improved to 57.5%.
“From 29 October, the Trust is back to seeing 100% of breast red flag patients within 14 days of receiving the referral.”
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Articles may come from parliamentary reports, various public news feeds and Google News Search. Content is republished here for context. Copyright is respected and remains with the original author at all times. Original Article:https://www.belfastlive.co.uk/news/belfast-news/breast-cancer-care-crisis-sparks-15435677