Alarming evidence has emerged of NHS services creaking at the seams after it was revealed that local patients suffering from one of the most dangerous forms of cancer face the worst waiting times for treatment in Northern Ireland.
In December, just 39.1% of women with a ‘red flag’ referral by a GP were able to get an appointment with a specialist in the Southern Trust within 14 days.
That means that out of 156 women, 95 had to wait longer than the recommended time for life-saving treatment.
The figures are in stark contrast to other trusts in Northern Ireland, which met the target or dropped just below it, revealing a shocking disparity in the speed of treatment across the region.
The next worst waiting times were the Northern Trust’s, where 97.5 percent of patients were treated within the target time.
Meanwhile, GPs across the Southern Trust have complained of unmanageable work loads as they bear the brunt of hospital cuts, and Out of Hours services at centres such as Dungannon have had to close for periods over the weekend because of a shortage of doctors.
The Southern Trust has blamed the shock figures, which have been described by GPs as deeply alarming, on a lack of senior medical staff.
“The shortage of senior medical staff required to meet the growing demand for breast cancer services has resulted in a dip in performance in waiting times, particularly against the 14 day target”, said a spokesperson for the trust.
“The Trust has recently appointed two additional breast consultants and we are continuing to work closely with other Trusts, the Department of Health and Health and Social Care Board to identify options for delivering a sustainable, high-quality breast cancer service for the future.”
The spokesperson went on to say that nearly all (96.8% +) of the trust’s patients diagnosed with cancer began treatment (for all cancers) within 31 days.