A cancer charity has appealed for local politicians to take urgent action over the “worrying” delays faced by many patients.
East Antrim-based 1 in 3 Cancer Support made the call after Department of Health figures showed that ministerial targets on waiting times were not being met.
Published at the end of September, the report indicated that “from April 2016, 95 percent of patients urgently referred with a suspect cancer should begin their treatment within 62 days”.
But in June 2016, 386 patients commenced first treatment following an urgent referral for suspect cancer; of these, 71.8 percent started treatment within 62 days.
Carrick woman Karen McMeekan from 1 in 3 went through treatment for cancer several years ago. “I was diagnosed in April and had surgery in May, so I was fortunate to be seen quickly, but I’ve spoken to so many other people who weren’t,” she said.
“Waiting times are something that always comes up and it’s a real concern. You’re taking about a life or death situation.
“When you’re dealing with a cancer diagnosis, you have enough to cope with, without the added worry of how long it’ll take for you to be seen.”
Referring to a BBC Radio Ulster interview last week, which outlined a staggering 82-week wait time for some cancer patients, Karen added: “The doctor [speaking during the interview] said that we as a country needed to look at the ‘bigger picture’: lifestyle choices, obesity, and so on, all directly linked to different types of cancer.
“We do need to treat the causes, but for those who currently have cancer, it’s now that we are on medication, now that we are concerned about the its possible side effects of medication, now that we are worried if our cancer is going to return.
“It’s now that the one in three of us are told early detection saves lives, now that we need an appointment, now that we need surgery.
“Our life is happening now and if the NHS system cant cope with the numbers of cases they are dealing with, it’s in the hands of our public representatives to take this to Stormont and sort it out.
“We are powerless to treat our cancer without our doctors and nurses and we are powerless to change legislation without our councillors, MLAs and other public representatives.”
East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson indicated that he and party colleague, health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw, would be bringing the issue to the attention of the Health Minister.
“Karen and others are working extremely hard to raise funds and awareness with their splendid charity - 1 in 3 - only to be thwarted by this ridiculously lengthy period of waiting for treatment,” Mr Dickson said.
“Detection and treatment are interwoven but when an individual is confronted with this life threatening situation they need treatment now.”