The Northern Health and Social Care Trust has “insufficient resource to meet current demand” for breast cancer services.
The Trust has also stated that “demand, as is the case elsewhere, is growing”.
The Trust was responding to concerns over a second “crisis” in recent months highlighted by Ulster Unionist health spokesman Roy Beggs.
Mr. Beggs MLA reported that whilst all urgent suspected breast cancer referrals should be seen within 14 days, in June, just 23 per cent of ‘red flag’ patients in the Northern Trust were seen within the two-week target.
The performance in April was 27 per cent and in May, 21 per cent.
Mr. Beggs said: “It is well-known that early diagnosis and treatment saves lives and for many cancer patients and their families, time is unfortunately a luxury that very few can afford. Cancer is a particularly cruel and unpredictable disease so there should be no opportunity for or tolerance of delays.
“I have long been concerned about the delivery of breast cancer services in the Northern Trust. Now, I have learned that increased demand and yet another unexpected consultant absence has once again caused a major deterioration in performance over recent months.
“The pressures have again boiled over and are now resulting in patients with suspected cancer having to wait for far longer than they should be.”
A spokesperson for the Northern Trust said: “We have an extremely professional and committed specialist medical team who carry out this work but the stark reality is that we have insufficient resource to meet current demand in the Northern Trust area and that demand, as is the case elsewhere, is growing.
“The Department of Health’s consultation document on breast assessment stresses that there is strong clinical consensus in support of the view that the current regional service provision is no longer sustainable.
“Resources are spread too thinly across the five Trusts. As a result, services are fragile with factors such as staff sickness, staff departures and even staff leave posing significant problems. As a result, we see longer waiting times which is just not acceptable, particularly for red-flag patients.
“One of the important outcomes of the Department’s consultation will be a carefully considered decision as to how breast assessment should be structured across the region. That solution must reflect what is in the best interests of patients.”