Department of Health: Waiting times for cancer care in Northern Ireland are ‘totally unacceptable’

The Department of Health has conceded that waiting times for cancer care are “totally unacceptable” after a GP reported an upsurge in late cancer diagnoses and deaths.

By Philip Bradfield
Saturday, 20th February 2021, 6:30 am

The trend has prompted calls for a ramping up in cancer care, with the Department of Health website showing the rate of Covid deaths steadily plummeting since January 17. A of last night there were 163 free hospital beds and 33 free Intensive Care Unit places.

“We certainly have moved away from hospitals being overwhelmed by Covid,” one NHS source said. She believes other hospital specialities are operating “way below normal” and they should be ratcheting up as rapidly as possible, especially for suspected cancer. She understands that many doctors are working much less than normal in radiology, orthopaedic surgery and general surgery.

PUP deputy leader and GP John Kyle said he is aware of an “upsurge in late cancer diagnoses with consequent increased deaths.” He asked: “As the peak of covid infections has now  passed at what level are cancer services operating? Is cancer being treated with the urgency that it requires?”

Covid related deaths rates have been falling since January 17, 2021 prompting some doctors to call for cancer care services to be ramped up. Source: DOH Dashboard.

 Dervilia Kernaghan of Cancer Focus NI welcomed government figures showing Covid-19 related deaths have fallen for a third week. “We fully expect this will help relieve the pressure on the NHS and will mean that full services for cancer patients can be reinstated as soon as possible,” she said.

Action Cancer’s Gareth Kirk agreed with her analysis. He has been calling for “a proportionate and parallel” approach to Covid and cancer since March but say “calls have largely fallen on deaf ears”. He added: “If further lives are not to be lost, it is now imperative that cancer is given the priority and resources that it not only deserves but urgently requires.”

Alasdair O’Hara of Macmillan Cancer Support said the pandemic has had a “devastating” impact on cancer services.

“Macmillan continues to call on the Minister for Health to ensure that the NI cancer strategy is progressed and a sustained, resourced recovery plan is in place,” he said. “We cannot risk cancer becoming the ‘forgotten C’ now or into the future.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman responded that unfortunately, the scale of Covid has impacted on many services.  

The Department of Health said the scale of Covid has impacted many services but that all trusts are maintaining urgent operating theatre lists and taking cancer patients where possible. They have also worked to ensure that anti-cancer therapies have been protected.

“However, the length of time patients are waiting for assessment, diagnosis and treatment is totally unacceptable,” a spokeswoman said.

Consultants have seen 3,900 patients in the independent sector from April to December, she added.

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