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DUP Upper Bann MLA and Health Committee representative Jonathan Buckley has pressed for assurances from the Minister of Health that pathways to diagnosis and treatment for those with cancer will not be adversely impacted during the latest period of Covid restrictions in Northern Ireland.

Responding to the publication of the latest Northern Ireland Cancer Waiting Times statistics for the period July to September 2020, Mr Buckley said:

‘‘These statistics not only demonstrate the scale of demand for cancer services but the deepening crisis in waiting times for potentially lifesaving treatment across our Province.

Whilst it is welcome that the number of breast cancer referrals in September 2020 was broadly in line with the previous year, it is extremely worrying that the total urgent cases being seen within 14 days has slipped well below the 100% target. Similarly, only 60% of patients commenced first treatment following an urgent referral within the 62-day target.

We do not underestimate the challenges our health service face at this time. However, thousands of families will be rightly asking what the new measures agreed by the Executive stretching into February will mean for their loved one’s individual care. It is essential that the needs of cancer patients are elevated during this period. Routes for referrals, diagnostics, treatment and surgery preserved.

I recognise that there are no easy answers and no quick fixes to the worsening cancer crisis Northern Ireland faces. However, there should be a minimum requirement for the Health Minister to ensure that Covid and non-Covid patients alike are treated fairly and equitably. As the public make even greater sacrifices in the coming weeks, it is essential that the breathing space this provides to our health service bring benefits not just for those stricken with this terrible virus but people under threat from cancer and other serious illnesses too.’’