Elected representatives in Northern Ireland have expressed concern at the deteriorating waiting times for cancer treatment in the region.
Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw, who lost her mother to the disease only last year, said she was “extremely worried” after the Department of Health revealed the further growth in the length of time patients wait to begin treatment after receiving a diagnosis.
In September last year, 369 people began receiving medical care, but only 61.8% commenced the process within the recommended 62 day period, a fall of almost 3% from the previous month.
Ms Bradshaw, who is Chair of the Assembly All-Party Group on Cancer, said: “Despite huge amounts of additional funding being made available by the Department of Health in recent years, it does not seem to have made any difference. So a better, long-term approach is urgently required.
“On the All-Party Group, we have been highlighting the growing numbers of people being diagnosed with cancer, the need for investment in diagnostic treatment, requirement for a workforce recruitment drive and staff development programme, and more funding for preventative measures such as vaccine programmes, and community education programmes.”
The MLA for south Belfast added: “All of this activity should be encompassed within a comprehensive cancer strategy for Northern Ireland, and while there have been some murmurings about such a strategy forthcoming, there has been no evidence of its formulation or engagement around its content.
“My mother passed from cancer in 2018 and I witnessed first-hand the devastating impact on the patient and their families and carers. I also saw the huge effort and range of treatment our hardworking cancer healthcare staff put into her treatment and care, and I firmly believe they deserve more resources and more colleagues.
“In short, we need our Department of Health to accelerate its efforts to bring forward this cancer strategy as soon as possible, to ensure the upward trend in cancer is arrested and then reversed.”
In recent days, the UUP’s Roy Beggs has hit out at the deterioration in cancer services as something that would be a “scandal” in any other UK region.
The east Antrim MLA said: “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. That’s what makes these missed targets so serious and inexcusable.
“In Northern Ireland it is just taken for granted now that every official publication of waiting times will be worse than the one that came before.”
In the absence of devolved government, Mr Beggs urged Secretary of State Karen Bradley to take action.
“On the second anniversary of the collapse of the Executive we are now long past the point at which the Secretary of State can continue to sit back and do nothing while local people suffer. Yet she’s virtually invisible and appears to show no awareness whatsoever that people are coming to real medical harm as a result of the impasse and her inaction.”
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