There is no price on people’s health, reminds local charity with release of updated cancer waiting times

Coming just days after the UK General Election, the latest NI Cancer Waiting Times Statistics show an urgent need for all NI politicians and governing bodies to commit to addressing cancer.

Published this morning from the NI Department of Health, the waiting times once again show that cancer waits remain stagnant far below target, continuing delays that have been deteriorating since at least 2012. Per this morning’s data, of the 2,949 cancer patients who started their first definitive treatment, 86.5% started the treatment within 31 days of a decision to treat (target: 98%); of the 1,111 cancer patients starting treatment following urgent GP referral for suspect cancer, 29.8% started treatment within 62 days of the referral (target: 95%); and of the 3,605 patients seen by a breast cancer specialist following urgent referral for breast cancer, 34.1% were seen within 14 days of the referral (target: 100%). These statistics cover cancer services in the NI Trust hospitals from January through March 2024, with the SE Trust excluded from the 62-Day statistics due data validation challenges following the encompass roll-out last November.

“1 in 2 of us are projected to receive a cancer diagnosis in our lifetimes,” comments Richard Spratt, Chief Executive of Cancer Focus Northern Ireland.

Richard Spratt, Chief Executive at Cancer Focus Northern Ireland

“Cancer is not a contained problem that only affects some of our community; at some moment or other, it will likely come for all of us, with everyone facing a diagnosis either for themselves or for a loved one. When we learn that 7 in 10 people are still waiting longer than two months to start treatments after urgent referral for suspect cancer, those are not just statistics; they are your neighbours, your friends, your family, or even yourselves. We all need these waiting times to be better.”

Richard continues: “Over the past few months, we have heard Health Ministers say the new budget may require some services and treatments to be cut. That is the opposite of what needs to happen. If we do not invest in health – from cancer prevention to the waiting times to getting the treatments right the first time – we will only create more problems for ourselves as health conditions worsen, causing even higher costs. As part of this, we need transformation and brave decision-making to prioritize and reorient services, to get the waiting times back on target and to sustainably deliver care even in this challenging budgetary environment. This must include more intention around cancer prevention and early detection, which will lead to better outcomes, less invasive procedures, and fewer costs. Without transformation, we will not meet our goals.”

Richard concludes: “We are encouraged that Health Minister Nesbitt has included cancer as one of his priorities and has set as his mission to achieve better health outcomes. We cannot put a price on people’s health. We should be able to trust that our Health Service is there for us when we need it to be; when it comes to health, there should not be a conversation on affordability. What we can do, however, is make sure that the resources are being used as efficiently and effectively as possible.”


To learn more about cancer waits in Northern Ireland, read the Cancer Focus Northern Ireland report, Cancer Waits in 2023: A Year in Review (available here). To learn more about how to reduce your individual cancer risk, visit To discuss any cancer questions or support needs, call the Cancer Focus Northern Ireland Nurseline at 0800 783 3339 (Mon/Wed/Fri, 9a-1p).

Recognising the health challenges that face Northern Ireland, Cancer Focus Northern Ireland developed a Manifesto for the UK General Election, which includes measures to improve health, cancer outcomes, inequalities, and patient care in Northern Ireland: access the Manifesto here.

Updated cancer waiting times are published quarterly as National Statistics from the Department of Health. Today’s release was delayed twice from their originally scheduled date of 27 June 2024.