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Cancer Services: Deterioration

Part of Opposition Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:45 pm on 18th October 2016.

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Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 3:45 pm, 18th October 2016

If the Member waits a moment, I will come exactly to that point. If you notice, I have been talking all about the waiting list, and there is a reason for it.

In GB, they operate using referral time to treatment. It is not how long you have been parked on one of the multiple waiting lists that Northern Ireland patients have to move along; it is your treatment plan from when you see your GP until you get treated. We operate a different system, which hides many people within the waiting system. Because we are not using that referral time to treatment, the system does not look at how to better plan and improve the patient's journey. When will Northern Ireland come out of the dark ages and adopt that modern method to improve our system and bring about efficiencies?

There are 392,000 local patients on the waiting list, but the question is this: how many of them have a more serious ailment lurking in the background that may emerge when they are on the waiting list? No blame is intended on heavily pressed GPs or specialist consultants. Indeed, some illnesses are very difficult to diagnose, but the longer that someone is on a waiting list and not being regularly seen and reviewed by the specialist, the higher the risks. Indeed, some individuals end up moving to several different specialists along their journey of diagnosis.

I can think of one constituent who was parked on such multiple waiting lists and whose long journey of diagnosis has taken some six months. Only recently, it was identified that he now has a suspected cancer. Therefore, having waited six months and visited a whole range of specialists on different waiting lists, finally a suspicion of cancer has been highlighted and an operation is planned. I hope and pray that delays will not prove to be significant to his long-term health. That is a problem with the 392,000 people on the waiting list. Many of them have different ailments, some of which may be cancer, so we ought to deal with the problems in our entire health service, as referenced in the motion but not addressed by many. Once cancer spreads, it becomes very difficult to treat. Therefore, early treatment targets are there to try to prevent that from happening.

In the Northern Trust area, I see that —