Only 6.7% of urgent cancer referrals were seen within the target of two weeks over the past year in a Northern Ireland trust, with GP leaders warning that patients are having to return to their GP because they are increasingly worried.
The warnings from Southern LMC come as the latest quarterly figures from the Department of Health show not a single target across the country has been met, with only 63.9% of urgent breast cancer referrals seen within 14 days in June 2016 – way short of the 100% target.
Some areas are doing particularly poorly with the proportion being seen in the Southern Trust in the 14-day timeframe falling from 100% to 6.7% in the past year, while in the South Eastern Trust only a quarter of urgent breast cancer referrals hit the target.
Dr Frances O’Hagan, who is also a GP in Armagh, said her patients were waiting longer and longer for treatment.
She said: ‘The waiting time for a routine breast appointment is 35 weeks and the waiting time for general surgery is 44 weeks.
‘From the point of view of the patient, they’re coming back and coming back to see us because they are anxious and upset about the wait. It is very stressful for them.’
She added that because only 5% of funding in Northern Ireland goes into primary care, GPs do not have the resources to help take pressure off secondary care who are also having to deal with more minor issues.
‘I was very shocked by the figures,’ she said. ‘We spend more per head of population on healthcare than the other devolved nations but other countries have much better waiting times so clearly we’re doing something badly wrong.
‘We need to be investing more in primary care so we can deal with the more minor things is the community and free up our colleagues to do the more urgent care.’
RCGP Northern Ireland chair Dr John O’Kelly said the failure of these trusts to meet the target ‘extremely disappointing’.
‘Some are doing abysmally. What is happening in these trusts to allow that situation to deteriorate to such an extent?’ he questioned.
A spokesperson for the Health and Social Care Board said they regretted that some patients referred urgently for suspected breast cancer had waited longer than two weeks.
They said there had been a problem with a significant number of referrals and staffing pressures in the first three months of 2016/17.
‘Provisional figures for September show a much improved position with four of the five trusts sitting at 99% or higher,’ they added.