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Cancer waiting time stats reminder of massive challenges in NI’s health care system

Newly published statistics for cancer treatment waiting times in Northern Ireland are a reminder of the massive challenges facing our health care system in Northern Ireland.


The release gives details of the waiting times for patients accessing cancer services at hospitals.


Key facts and figures are listed below:


Waiting times for first treatment following an urgent GP referral for suspect cancer (62 day target)


  • In March 2020, 440 patients commenced their first treatment for cancer following an urgent referral for suspect cancer. Of these, 53.9% (237 patients) started treatment within 62 days, compared with 48.6% (170 of the 350 patients) in February, 44.5% (181 of the 407 patients) in January and 61.8% (194 of the 314 patients) in March 2019.


Waiting times for first definitive treatment following a decision to treat (31 day target)

  • During March 2020, 964 patients commenced their first treatment for cancer following a decision to treat being taken. Of these, 93.8% (904) started treatment within 31 days, compared with 93.7% (755 of the 806 patients) in February, 92.5% (868 of the 938 patients) in January and 93.8% (742 of the 791 patients) in March 2019.


Patients first seen following an urgent referral for suspect breast cancer (14 day target)


  • During March 2020, 1,069 patients were seen by a breast cancer specialist for a first assessment following an urgent referral for suspect breast cancer. Of these, 80.2% (857) were seen within 14 days, compared with 77.4% (933 of the 1,205 patients) in February, 81.2% (1,047 of the 1,289 patients) in January and 85.6% (1,187 of the 1,387 patients) in March 2019.


Referrals for suspect breast cancer


  • In March 2020, 1,476 new referrals for suspect breast cancer were received; this compares to 1,854 in February, 2,083 in January and 2,052 in March 2019. Referrals for suspect breast cancer can be for advice, assessment or both.


  • Of those new referrals for suspect breast cancer in March 2020, 1,014 (68.7%) were classified as urgent.


Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann commented on the latest figures saying: “The statistics published today provide a stark reminder of the massive challenges that face the health care system in Northern Ireland.


“And in deeply human terms, they illustrate the vital necessity of a major overhaul of how we provide health care across all disciplines.


“The restructuring of services necessitated to combat Covid-19 means that the waiting lists for the second quarter will in all likelihood be even worse.


“However, the response to this pandemic has also shown how the health service and the magnificent staff who work in it can rise to virtually any challenge.


“Changes which in the past would have taken years have been put in place in weeks.


“This sense of unity and purpose can provide a foundation to take forward the changes envisaged in the Rebuilding Health and Social Care Services (RHSCS) programme which I published earlier this month.


“These plans include ongoing emphasis on high priority cancer services.”


A key work stream under the Rebuilding programme has already commenced to reset cancer services. Steps are being taken to maximise assessment and treatment capacity, both within the HSC and the Independent Sector, taking into account innovative practice embedded during the first Covid-19 wave.


All statistical publications relating to waiting times are available online at:


www.health-ni.gov.uk/articles/cancer-waiting-times

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