‘Unacceptable’ failure on cancer pledge: MLA

Mark H Durkan
Mark H Durkan

Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan has described as ‘unacceptable’ news that the Western Trust and the health trust areas are failing cancer patients due to delays in starting treatment.

The SDLP politician, who sponsored a Cancer Research UK event at Stormont last week, says more needs to be invested in early diagnoses.

He said: “It’s simply unacceptable that cancer patients are experiencing delays in starting treatment. These revelations display a level of failure that cannot be continued.

“It’s particularly sad to hear this news given that the minister joined me at the Cancer Research UK event at Stormont where he talked about the need to increase and put extra resources into early diagnosis. He also talked about much further investment in order to build up the GP and cancer centres to diagnose early.”

The purpose of the Stormont event, he said, was to develop a regionally co-ordinated early diagnosis initiative which delivers targeted programmes.

This, he said, could also help raise public awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer and the importance of seeing a GP promptly.

The Derry politician also wants a programme of action to equip GPs with the knowledge, data and support they need to help detect cancer earlier, with better communication between primary and secondary care to encourage prompt onward referral.

“Against that backdrop, these figures are so disappointing,” he said. “There is a call for the minister to intervene and knock some heads together.”

All of Northern Ireland’s health trusts are failing to meet basic performance standards which mean cancer patients should start treatment within 62 days.

The Health and Social Care Board says it is meeting the trusts regularly to discuss individual cases.

Last April, the health minister said 95% of people urgently referred with a suspected cancer should begin treatment within 62 days. However, that is not happening in any of the trusts.

Derry GP Tom Black said it was an “important target”.

“This is patients with a diagnosis of cancer,” he said. “It is so important to get them through the system quickly and get them through definite treatment.”