Cancer services failing some patients as targets missed again, charity warns

CANCER services in Northern Ireland are failing some patients, a charity has warned.

New figures show that just 68.6 per cent of patients began treatment within 62 days of an urgent referral last December – far below the 95 per cent target.

This was up from 65.6 per cent in October, but down from 72.2 per cent in December 2015.

All health trusts missed the target for the quarter, which has never been met.

Meanwhile, a target for all urgent breast cancer referrals to receive an assessment by a specialist within 14 days was also missed.

A total of 91.4 per cent of patients were seen in the two-week timeframe in December – down from 99.4 per cent in October but up from just 49.5 per cent a year earlier.

Cancer Research UK said the Department of Health figures show a “consistent inability” to meet targets, and called for a new strategy to deal with increased demand for treatment.

“The lives of patients depend on swift, efficient and effective access to cancer services. Every extra day of waiting is stacking the odds in cancer’s favour,” said spokeswoman Margaret Carr.

“Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without an up-to-date cancer strategy.

“With the number of people being diagnosed with cancer rising, a strategy on how the health service in Northern Ireland will cope with increased demand is more urgently needed than ever.”

The figures were also described by Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs as “simply inexcusable”.

“What really makes the current situation wholly unacceptable is the revelation that of all the patients waiting longer than 62 days for treatment in December 2016, over 38 per cent were diagnosed with urological cancer,” the East Antrim MLA said.

“In addition, there is now evidence of a serious problem in breast cancer services in the Southern Health Trust – in December only 39 per cent of patients there were seen by a breast cancer specialist within the 14-day target.

“We have no way of knowing just what actual impact these delays had on each of the patients affected.

“If the two largest parties can ever get their act together and form a functioning Executive the next health minister must better focus their efforts on cancer prevention, early detection, and identify the cause of the delays and particularly the gaps within the local medical workforce.”

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