Women waiting 35 weeks for cancer tests

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Women in the Southern Trust area are waiting up to 35 weeks for a routine breast referral, it has been revealed.

Figures released by the Health Minister Michelle O’Neill show urgent referrals may have to wait up to three weeks despite the target being 14 days.

MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said: “These waiting times figures are symptomatic of the human tragedy engulfing the entire Northern Ireland health service.

“In June just 15 of the 224 women flagged as urgent suspected breast cancer were seen within the 14-day target by the Southern Trust. I asked the Minister directly how many of the 209 women who were not seen by the target were subsequently given a breast cancer diagnosis and she avoided answering my question. It’s fitting that the issue is rightly being highlighted at the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness month when so many fantastic local charities put their shoulder to the wheel.

“This is warmly welcomed and that’s why women need to see a specialist and receive treatment as quickly and efficiency as possible. Because we know that any delay can reduce the likelihood of a successful outcome. I have discussed this situation with the Chief Executive and will be meeting with him again soon. I appreciate that action is being taken to address the unsatisfactory performance, however, longer term solutions are needed if our excellent cancer specialists and nurses across all the specialities are not continually to be stretched to their very limits!

“As an Opposition we have, jointly with the SDLP, tabled a motion to enable this issue to be substantively debated in the Assembly Chamber.”

A Trust spokesman said: “The Trust has worked hard to improve our Breast Cancer service following a brief dip in performance earlier this year. Currently 95% of women are being seen within 14 days.

“The loss of specialist staff meant we were unable to see patients as quickly as we would like, but in partnership with colleagues from other Trusts, performance has improved significantly. We apologise for any anxiety these delays may have caused.

“Like many units locally and nationally, the Southern Trust Breast Cancer unit has encountered ongoing difficulty with the recruitment and retention of senior medical staff required to meet the demand for breast cancer service. The latest published Cancer Waiting Times statistics confirm that in the last quarter (Apr-June), The Southern Trust achieved the Ministerial target in all three months with over 98% of patients diagnosed with cancer receiving their first definitive treatment (for all cancers) within 31 days of a decision to treat.”