Northern Ireland

Cancer waiting times: Treatment delay in over 50% of urgent cases

Woman in doctor's office for check up. - stock photo Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption In September, 202 cancer patients people had waited longer than the government target to begin treatment

Over half of patients in Northern Ireland who began cancer treatment last September following an urgent referral did not start their treatment on time.

That is according to the Department of Health's latest waiting time figures.

Government targets state that at least 95% of cancer patients with an urgent referral from their GP should begin treatment within two months (62 days).

Only 48% of the 390 cancer patients who were in this situation in September 2019 began treatment within 62 days.

That meant that 202 people had to wait longer that they should have, and of that group, more than a third of them (37.6%) needed treatment for urological cancer.

Urological cancer can affect the bladder, kidneys, prostate and genitals.

The latest quarterly figures, which cover the period from July to September 2019, have been described as "frightening" by the Ulster Unionist Party's health spokesman, Roy Beggs.

"Cancer is a cruel disease that often thrives during periods of delays in diagnosis and treatment," he added.

The UUP assembly member said that if there is no political deal to restore Stormont's devolved government by Monday 13 January, the Westminster government "must step in to take immediate control of health matters".

The 62-day ministerial cancer target has not been met in Northern Ireland in the last three years, with health trusts coming nowhere near to treating 95% of urgent cases within the recommended time frame.

However, only twice during that period has the percentage of patients who were treated on time fallen below 50%.

The previous occasion was in May 2019 when 48.9% of urgent cases received their first treatment on time.

The latest quarterly figures also a continued trend of delays in breast cancer assessments.

All breast cancer patients who are urgently referred to a specialist should get a first appointment within 14 days, but in August only 77% of patients in Northern Ireland were seen on time.

The situation improved significantly in September when almost 96% of patients were seen within 14 days.

However, figures vary widely across the health trusts.

Specialists in Belfast Trust and South Eastern Health Trust both saw 100% of urgent breast cancer cases within 14 days between July and September.

But in the Northern Health Trust, less than a quarter (24.5%) of breast cancer patients saw a specialist on time in July, and in August the figure rose to just 27.2%.

By September, the Northern trust was seeing 86% of breast cancer patients on time, but still missed the government target.

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