Almost 40% of patients who were told by their GP that they had suspected cancer are still not being treated within the official target of two months, a cancer charity has noted.
Cancer Research said the latest waiting list figures, released by the Department of Health (DOH) for the last quarter of 2018 were “very disappointing”.
According to official targets, 95% of suspected cancer cases should be seen within the 62 day window, after an urgent referral by a GP. But Cancer Research noted that just under 59% are seen within the critical treatment window.
It said that all Northern Ireland health trusts missed this cancer treatment target for October to December 2018.
But it also went much further, saying that this target was set in 2009 but has “never been met across Northern Ireland” in the subsequent decade.
The DOH declined to comment on the charity’s claim.
Margaret Carr, Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager for Northern Ireland, said: “The latest cancer waiting time figures are once again very disappointing with many patients still waiting too long to get a diagnosis and start treatment.”
The aging population means the problem will only escalate in future she said, adding that it should be addressed by prioritising staffing and resources for diagnostic services.
DOH said that 61% of urgent cancer referrals were treated inside 62 days in December 2018, dropping significantly from the 67% in December 2017.
However it also noted an improvement in assessing suspected breast cancer within the official target of 14 days, up from 80.8% in December 2017 to 99.8% in December 2018.
Responding to the figures, DUP leader Arlene Foster said NI has been without an Executive for over two years “because Sinn Fein have placed their own party shopping list ahead of the needs of the public, including those awaiting cancer treatment”.
UUP Health Spokesman Roy Beggs said the figures are “outrageous” and although DOH has announced it will “at long last” be producing a Cancer Strategy, this can only be implemented by a future Health Minister, he said. If Stormont it not to be restored he added, then he called for direct rule.
SDLP Health Spokesman Mark H Durkan welcomed the fact that times for breast cancer had improved. However he noted that the forthcoming strategy “demands a Minister providing strong direction”.
Sinn Fein did not offer any comment.