Staffing Gaps Cause Growth In Cancer Waiting Times

The Department of Health has attributed the unacceptable waiting times for cancer assessment and treatment in Northern Ireland to staffing gaps.

The latest approach to tackle the issue and transform cancer care is to stabilise services on fewer sites staffed by larger teams of professional staff, a proposal that is currently out for public consultation.

During March 2019, 1,387 patients were seen by a specialist for a first assessment following an urgent referral for suspected breast cancer. Of these, 85% had an appointment within the 14 day target, compared with 98% in February.

The DoH said the bleak situation arising within breast assessment services demonstrates the need for consolidation, especially given the projected increase in breast cancer in the years ahead.
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A statement released on Thursday 27 June said: "A number of different trusts have fallen well short of the 14 day target in recent years, with staffing gaps the recurring cause. That's not the fault of the individual units or their hardworking staff. It's because staffing numbers are currently spread too thinly across the province. Smaller units are particularly vulnerable to staffing crises, for instance when a colleague falls ill or takes a job elsewhere."

However an SDLP MLA has said the failure to meet targets is a disgrace that requires urgent political attention.

Foyle representative Mark H Durkan has called on Northern Ireland's political parties to escalate their efforts to resolve the current impasse and tackle the issue.

He said: "Our Health Service is in dire need of strategic leadership that advances the transformation agenda. Figures published today show that once again we have missed all three ministerial targets for cancer waiting times. These figures represent real people enduring the agony of waiting for assessment and treatment for life threatening and life limiting conditions. It isn't good enough and we all have to face up to it.

"This is, once again, a symptom of the failure to address the crisis in our health service. And it underlines the seriousness of the current talks process. Because this is the real cost of failure – the lives and quality of life of hundreds of people in all of our communities.

"All parties must redouble their efforts to secure a resolution that restores inclusive, power sharing government. We have a serious, and growing, crisis in health to deal with. There's no room to pass the buck."


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