Cancer misery

Derry’s health trust has failed to meet key cancer treatment targets.

And a cancer support group say the new figures, released yesterday by the north’s Department of Health, underscore the urgent need for a specialised cancer treatment unit here in Derry.

The latest official statistics show that across the Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) area hospitals failed to meet targets for first time breast cancer assessments and also for the treatment of suspected cancer patients who have been urgently referred by their GP.

Karen Mullan of the Pink Ladies support group says failing to meet targeted times only compounds the stresses of a cancer diagnosis.

“These figures certainly reflect the urgent need for Derry to get a cancer care unit, and the need for both the resources and the specialised staff to be made available. When the GP refers you and tells you it could be cancer, you just want to be seen as quickly as possible.”

The figures reveal that in October and November of last year the WHSCT failed to meet guidelines covering breast cancer assessment.

Stormont’s Department of Health say the target waiting time for a first assessment with a breast cancer specialist should be within 14 days.

But in October of last year only 75% of patients were assessed within the target time while in November the figure also fell short.

Guidelines also state that 95% of suspected cancer patients who have been urgently referred by their GP should have started treatment within 62 days.

In each of the last three months of 2010 WHSCT failed to meet that target, hitting 84.7%, 88.1%. and 81.1% .

A WHSCT spokesman says a cancelled breast cancer clinic was responsible for the low percentage of patients seen in October.

He says WHSCT is making every effort to improve its performance for patients receiving a first definitive treatment for cancer within 62 days following an urgent GP referral for suspect cancer but “there are a small number of specialties in which there are capacity issues.”