Third of cancer patients ‘waiting too long for treatment’

A third of cancer patients in NI are waiting too long for urgent treatment. Credit: UTV

A third of cancer patients in Northern Ireland are waiting too long for urgent treatment according to official figures.

Campaigners have said that the missed targets are compromising early diagnoses targets.

The objective set for trusts is 95%, but last September only 64% of patients with an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer started their treatment within 62 days, down from 70% in July.

Roisin Foster, chief executive of Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, said: "Our message that early diagnosis and treatment saves lives is being compromised by these very worrying statistics.

"We know that our health trusts are under extreme pressure.

"Waiting times have already been addressed as part of the Bengoa report and we want to see those recommendations implemented as soon as possible. For many cancer patients’ time is not a luxury they can afford."

There was a rise however, in the percentage of patients first seen within 14 days following an urgent referral for suspect breast cancer, up to 85% in July to 96% in September.

The Bengoa report was aimed at commissioned by ministers wanting to improve services, and said that an increased number of emergency or unplanned urgent admissions was affecting hospitals’ ability to deal with elective or planned care.

Health Minister Michelle O'Neill said that excessive waiting times were unacceptable.

"My focus is on ensuring that the trusts improve the performance of our existing high-quality cancer services so that patients receive the best possible service during the diagnosis and treatment of their condition.

"I want this work to produce similar improvement to the performance that the trusts have achieved in respect of the waiting times for the 14-day target for urgent GP referrals for suspected breast cancer."