Cancer charities have expressed disappointment at the latest figures showing that all waiting time targets have been missed.
The latest data from the Department of Health shows that in September, just 42.5% of patients started their first cancer treatment following an urgent referral within 62 days. The target is 95%.
In the same month 88% of patients started their first cancer treatment following a decision to treat being taken within 31 days.
And 75.5% of patients with an urgent referral for suspect breast cancer were seen within 14 days.
There were 2,583 new referrals for suspect breast cancer in September, up from 1,827 in August. Of those referrals, 1,699 were classified as urgent.
We fear that waiting times will continue to increase for many local people
Cancer Focus Northern Ireland described the figures as a cause for “serious concern”.
Chief executive Richard Spratt said there is an urgent need for the publication and sustained resourcing of the new cancer strategy.
“We are extremely disappointed to see that, yet again, large numbers of local cancer patients have not been seen within the Department’s own target dates. This has been a consistent failure ever since these targets were set,” he said.
“These statistics are not just numbers; they represent real people. 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.
“Even pre-Covid cancer incidence and mortality were increasing, with these trends exacerbated by an ageing population and health inequalities.
“We fear that waiting times will continue to increase for many local people, especially as we’re expecting a large cohort of people with a late diagnosis as a result of the pandemic.”
Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager in Northern Ireland, Barbara Roulston, said that while it has been an exceptionally tough winter for the health service, the long waits are “unacceptable”.
“The Northern Ireland Executive’s draft 10-year cancer strategy has the power to put cancer services on track by ensuring we have the right staff in place to detect, diagnose and treat cancer. The strategy is the key to tackling waiting times and improving cancer survival,” she said.