Cancer treatment waiting time target never met
CALLS for a new cancer strategy for Northern Ireland intensified today as new statistics showed patients are still waiting too long for treatment.
Today’s official release of the latest cancer treatment waiting times statistics show that between April and June 2016, only 69.9 per cent of patients with an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer started their first cancer treatment within 62 days.* The target is 95 per cent. All health trusts missed the target for the quarter. This target has never been met
The statistics come hard on the heels of a recent Cancer Research UK report which concluded that some services are struggling with demand, and people could be waiting too long for important test results which determine if they have cancer.
The ‘Where Next For Cancer Services In Northern Ireland?’ report also called for an urgent review of diagnostic services to ensure patients are seen quickly and their cancer is diagnosed sooner.
And with official cancer waiting time targets being consistently missed in Northern Ireland, swift action is needed as some patients are waiting too long to begin potentially life-saving cancer treatments.
Margaret Carr, Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager in Northern Ireland, said: “These new statistics show that cancer services here are not coping with rising demand.
“And with the number of people being diagnosed with cancer on the increase, the way services are currently organised is not sustainable.
“This is why a new cancer plan that sets out a long term vision and identifies priorities and where to target resources, is needed. Now is the time to set out new ambitions for cancer in Northern Ireland, along with details of how these goals will be achieved.”
Northern Ireland’s official waiting time targets for those with suspected cancer are designed to ensure patients are diagnosed and can begin treatment quickly. One of these targets – the 62 day wait between being urgently referred by their GP for suspected cancer and beginning treatment – has not been met since records began over six years ago.
Margaret added: “It is totally unacceptable that this target has not been met over such a long period. Swift action is needed as patients are waiting too long for potentially life-saving cancer treatments.
“Waiting to hear if you have cancer, and then for treatment to start, are incredibly anxious times for patients.
“We know that the earlier cancer is diagnosed, the more successful treatment is likely to be, which is why the current system of referring patients for tests to diagnose cancer must be simplified.
“Diagnostic tests are often the first step of a patient’s cancer journey so it is important people are not waiting longer than absolutely necessary. It is vital that diagnostic services have the right equipment and staff to meet the needs of all patients.”
Every year around 9,000 people are diagnosed with cancer* in Northern Ireland. Cancer incidence rates in Northern Ireland have increased by 11% over the last decade**.
The Cancer Research UK report’s authors, from the University of Glasgow, also urged the Department of Health to conduct a review of workforce capacity to identify staff shortages and outline how they will be addressed in light of increasing incidence of cancer.
The report also recommended that Northern Ireland should systematically collect and make available data on chemotherapy and radiotherapy in order to understand any access issues to these treatments.
Richard Wilson, Professor of Cancer Medicine at Queen’s University Belfast and a consultant based at the Cancer Centre in the Belfast HSC Trust, said: “The Cancer Research UK report is very timely. In our current difficult financial climate, we need to use our resources in a more cost effective manner as well as ensuring adequate funding for the growing cancer burden is provided.
“Early diagnosis is crucial and investment here will reduce the resources needed for treatment of advanced cancer in the long term.
“We need an urgent review of the cancer service and workforce covering not only staffing for cancer diagnostic testing and in delivery of care but also of how our cancer services are configured across Northern Ireland.
“Enhanced access for our patients to clinical research and innovative medicines and procedures will result in better quality of care and improved outcomes.”