The Department of Health believes that NI’s cancer waiting times are unacceptable. They are mainly attributable to staffing gaps in cancer services.
The Department’s approach to transforming cancer care is firstly to stabilise services on fewer sites staffed by larger teams of professional staff. Larger teams will make it easier to attract and retain staff - and to cope when some are unavailable.
That is why the Department has embarked on the public consultation on reshaping breast assessment care. This work will be complemented by the forthcoming review of breast treatment services and the development of a new long-term cancer strategy for Northern Ireland.
Yet again, the 14 day target for urgent referrals for suspected breast cancer has been missed. Breast assessment services clearly demonstrate the need to be consolidated on fewer sites to ensure more reliable care, especially given the projected increase in breast cancer in the years ahead.
A number of different trusts have fallen well short of the 14 day target in recent years, with staffing gaps the recurring cause. That’s not the fault of the individual units or their hardworking staff. It’s because staffing numbers are currently spread too thinly across the province. Smaller units are particularly vulnerable to staffing crises, for instance when a colleague falls ill or takes a job elsewhere.
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