A BANBRIDGE cancer patient has spoken of the misery being caused by a broken radiotherapy machine at Belfast City Hospital.
The elderly woman, who is being treated for bowel cancer, said it was extremely distressing to have to wait for hours for treatment as health bosses struggle to repair the vital piece of equipment.
Cancer patients across Northern Ireland are being subjected to a delay of up to four hours every day as the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust try to repair the radiotherapy machine - known as a linear accelerator.
“I think it’s absolutely dreadful,” she said. “The machine has been broken for the past three weeks and no-one has been able to tell us when it will be working again.
“They keep saying they are having problems with the parts they need. I live in Banbridge and have been getting radiotherapy every day for the past three weeks and the machine has been broken which means patients are waiting for hours to get their treatment.”
The Belfast health trust said efforts were underway to repair the machine, but deputy chair of the Stormont Health Committee, Jim Wells, said he was disappointed at the handling of the situation.
“I am disappointed at the handling of this situation by the trust, who surely could have put some measures in place to ensure the patient experience was not compromised,” said Mr Wells.
A spokeswoman from the trust said, “Unfortunately, one of the eight linear accelerators is out of clinical use due to a fault. The other seven linear accelerators remain in use and no patient treatment has been delayed.
“The engineers are currently working on it and we hope to have it back in commission as soon as possible.”
However, the misery continues for some of the most gravely ill people across Northern Ireland, with the Banbridge woman describing the situation as “criminal” and claiming a 2pm appointment ended up being at five o’clock.
“Patients are still there at 9pm and the staff are run off their feet trying to make sure everyone is seen,” she said. “It’s terrible for them and it’s terrible for the patients. It’s hard enough when you have cancer without this as well.
“You arrive for your appointment and then one of the nurses tells you they are running three or four hours behind. You have to sit there all day without anything to eat. It’s very distressing.”
The local patient said some people were driving from Derry in the morning and, by the time they were seen and get back home, it was time to go bed.
“Then you wake up in the morning and start all over again,” she added. “There are people there who are much more sick than me, with brain cancer and bone cancer. I think it’s criminal.”