Southern Trust above average for cancer patient care

Editorial image.
Editorial image.

All patients awaiting medical care for cancer commenced treatment within 31 days in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust, according to the latest figures published by the Department of Health.

All women with suspected cases of breast cancer managed to be seen within 14 days during August and September and 97.9 per cent in July.

The local figures are above the Northern Ireland average in both cases where 93.9 per cent of patients started treatment within 31 days in July, 93.1 per cent in August and 91.8 per cent in September.

The number of breast cancer patients seen across Northern ireland within 14 days were 79.5 per cent in August, 74.5 per cent in September and 75.6 per cent last September, still below a ministerial target of 100 per cent.

Ulster Unionist health spokesperson, Roy Beggs MLA has warned that the “unprecedented crisis in local hospital waiting times is compromising the safety of patients right across Northern Ireland”.

Mr. Beggs was commenting after Department of Health statistics revealed that at the end of September 2018, a total of 283,497 patients were waiting for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment, and that over 92,000 of those had been waiting for longer than 52 weeks.

He said: “Formal targets for treatment across all patient types and specialties exist because it is medically accepted that the longer patients are forced to wait for treatment, the greater the harm they may ultimately come to.

“The number of people who are waiting far longer than even the maximum permitted time is at an unprecedented and terrifyingly high level.

“Never before in the history of Northern Ireland have so many people been waiting, and for such long periods of time, just to see a hospital consultant.

“Our health service is in the midst of a wholly unprecedented crisis and yet instead of action being taken to resolve it, the local system is simply drifting from one worsening situation to the next.

“It has got to the stage now where patients are suffering. Many of the 92,000 people who have been waiting for over a year will be in severe pain and discomfort which may well be affecting their own ability to work or even cope with basic day-to-day tasks.

“Now, with the scale of current pressures across all health and social care services, coupled with a record level of staff vacancies, I am really fearful that this winter will be even more challenging than last year.

“We urgently need a government and an accountable health minister in place to drive immediate improvements in our health service. If this is not being provided by a local Executive, then the Secretary of State and our Westminster government have a duty to citizens to step in and appoint one.

Roisin Foster, chief executive of Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, said: “The continuing failure to meet targets set for patients waiting for diagnosis and cancer treatment is of major concern. This places enormous stress on patients and on their families – waiting and worrying. They are fearful that their condition will worsen and will require more complex treatment.”

The Department of Health says: “During 2018/19, all urgent breast cancer referrals should be seen within 14 days; at least 98 per cent of patients diagnosed with cancer should receive their first definitive treatment within 31 days of a decision to treat; and at least 95 per cent of patients urgently referred with a suspected cancer should begin their first definitive treatment within 62 days.”