Publication of latest cancer waiting times must focus minds on the critical need for immediate intervention - Chambers

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Publication of latest cancer waiting times must focus minds on the critical need for immediate intervention - Chambers

Ulster Unionist Health Spokesperson Alan Chambers MLA has said the publication of the latest cancer waiting times, which show the deepening crisis gripping cancer services across Northern Ireland, is so serious that lives are being lost.

The North Down MLA has also raised a particular concern that in his local Trust area – the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust – only 8.6% of patients with suspected breast cancer were seen within the critical 14 day target following an urgent referral. The Northern Ireland average was 53%, with almost all patients in the Belfast and Western Health Trusts seen within the 14 day target.

Alan Chambers said:

“Cancer patients and their families deserve so much better than what they are currently receiving. Far too many people are being forced to wait far too long for diagnosis and treatment. Yet cancer is a disease that doesn’t wait, instead it often thrives in any periods of delayed intervention.

“We knew cancer services were already facing a precarious position and following the collapse of the Executive in 2022 and the failure to put in place a multi-year funding plan, it was always going to be inevitable that despite the best efforts of clinicians the situation overall was going to get worse.

“In any normal democracy the publication of these figures would be enough to focus political minds and recognise the absolute need for immediate intervention. Yet I’d question whether the Party that is currently blocking the restoration of the Executive will even read the latest waiting times report, for if they did, I’m not sure how with any conscience they could sleep at night knowing the actual devastating harm that their actions are having.

While this is going on, their local elected representatives are keeping themselves busy being photographed at every public event in their constituency and in between, photographed pointing at pot holes. However, they remain silent on their personal position on a return of the Assembly.

“Whilst there are a slate of very concerning facts and figures included in the latest publication, one statistic that caught my eye in particular was the revelation that for the quarter ending September 2023 only 8.6% of suspected breast cancer patients in the South Eastern Trust area were seen on time. Yet when we consider that percentage in actual patient numbers, it shockingly means 661 of the 723 patients who were eventually seen had to wait longer than the maximum permitted time. That’s a deplorable and totally unacceptable situation.

"Patients and staff are being cruelly robbed of the political support that our health service is so badly crying out for. It doesn't need to be this way - in 2022 the last UUP Minister of Health Robin Swann MLA published an ambitious and fully costed 10 year strategy to improve cancer services right across Northern Ireland. Whilst all the political parties rightly endorsed the plan, shamefully almost a full two years later, it remains sitting on a shelf in the absence of a functioning Executive and the necessary political leadership to drive through it's priorities.”