The Health Minister has been urged to ensure that no children in Northern Ireland with confirmed or suspected cancers are waiting for a first hospital appointment.
During ministerial question time in Stormont, Robin Swann admitted that the majority of people are being disapproved because of a crisis in hospital waiting lists.
The comments followed the publication of a report by Children’s Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma, which examined the number of children and young people on waiting lists, and how long they wait to access or reconsider appointments with counselors for treatment in hospitals.
Her review found that more than 17,000 children waited more than a year to see a hospital counselor for the first time.
It also reported that 24 children with confirmed or suspected cancers had to wait more than a year for a first appointment.
SDLP MLA Colin McGrath challenged the Secretary of Health over the report in the Assembly.
He said: “We heard heartbreaking news today about the number of young people waiting for a first appointment with a consultant.
“Would the minister agree with me that we are abandoning our children?”
Mr Swann replied: “I agree that we are failing most of society in Northern Ireland in terms of waiting lists.
“Today’s report from NICCY (Northern Ireland’s Commissioner for Children and Youth), with which my officials have been involved in its publication and production, was basically about highlighting the challenges across the health and social care system with regarding how we let a large number of patients down.
“More needs to be done, we need more recurring investment, we need support from our workforce. We are now also paying the price of 10 years of underfunding.”
Mr McGrath said: “The report referred to 24 young people who have been waiting for a year with a red flag cancer diagnosis.
“That must be one of the most harrowing times for children, parents and families.
“Would the minister ensure that today, or tomorrow at the latest, if there are children with suspected red flag cancer, they will see a specialist within 24 to 48 hours?”
The minister said: “I have already asked all trusts to review those waiting times to ensure there is an accuracy of what has been reported in the timeline.
“Current information from at least one of our trusts would show that there are no children waiting, i.e. in the Belfast Trust area, but I would like to seek that reassurance from other trusts.”