‘Need for dire situation to change’ as Northern Ireland cancer waiting times revealed

Cancer waiting times are still causing concern in NI. Credit: PA

The latest waiting times for cancer patients in Northern Ireland have been published, with leading charities again calling for priority to be given to delivering significant improvements.

Waiting times have shown marginal improvement, but remain lengthy.

The target of 95% of patients to begin treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral was missed. Only 43% got that treatment in December.

In November, that figure was 41.6% and a year earlier it was 55.3%.

According to Department of Health figures, 374 patients started their first treatment for cancer in December 2021 following an urgent referral for suspected cancer.

The latest figures also show that 1,298 patients were seen by a breast cancer specialist for a first assessment in December 2021 following an urgent referral.

Only 43.1% were seen within the recommended 14 days – compared with 38.1% in November, but down from 62.2% a year earlier.

Alasdair O’Hara, from cancer charity Macmillan, said: “The NI healthcare system is repeatedly failing people living with cancer despite the best efforts of hardworking staff, and with every release of waiting times statistics, we talk about the need for this dire situation to change.

“For many years, Macmillan called for an NI Cancer Strategy to drive this change forward and now that the strategy has been published, it has the potential to improve the lives of everyone living with cancer.

“However, this will only happen if politicians give priority to delivering the strategy and providing strong political leadership and investment. Only then can waiting times performance improve.”

Meanwhile, Cancer Focus NI has also expressed disappointment that large number of people are not being seen within the Department of Health’s own target dates.

“This has been a consistent failure ever since these targets were set,” CEO Richard Spratt said.

“These statistics are not just numbers, they represent real people. And when patients are waiting so long for a diagnostic test or treatment, the impact on them is devastating on top of all the other stresses associated with Covid-19.

“We see and hear this daily in our work supporting local patients and their families throughout their cancer journey, and our hearts go out to them.”

Mr Spratt added that even pre-Covid, incidences of cancer and related mortality rates were increasing, exacerbated by an ageing population and health inequalities.

“We fear that waiting times will continue to increase for many local people and continue to fall short of the mark, given that we expect a cohort of people with a late diagnosis post-pandemic,” he said.

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