Pilgrim Hospital in Boston.

Wait to see breast cancer specialists “too long”

Staff shortages are being blamed after waiting times to see breast cancer specialists in Lincolnshire dipped alarmingly earlier this year ahead of possible changes to the service.

The national standard is for 93 per cent of those thought to have the cancer to be seen by a specialist within two weeks of their referral.

But in January just 5.5 per cent of those referred to the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust (ULHT) with suspected breast cancer in Lincolnshire and 18.4 per cent referred showing symptoms saw a specialist in that timescale.

The figures are published in a report to Lincolnshire County Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee due to meet on Wednesday, June 12.

The report states the ULHT in the county is performing well in other areas with 100 per cent of breast cancer patients receiving their first treatments within 31 days between November and January while it was consistently above the 85 per cent national standard of patients being diagnosed and getting treatment within 62 days.

But the report states: “It is the patients who are being referred into the service that are waiting too long to be seen and receive their diagnosis.

“ULHT has been monitoring performance carefully following the deterioration in performance, and has taken mitigating action to improve performance against the 2-week wait standard, and this is proving to be successful, however, it is not a sustainable solution.”

The report states that ULHT treats more patients than any other in the country, but “due to a high use of agency staff” made a financial loss of £1.36m in 2017/18.

It continues: “There is a strong case for changing the way in which breast care services are delivered in Lincolnshire.

“The number of patients being seen by the service has increased significantly and the ULHT breast service is one of the largest in the country. The model of care across the ULHT hospital sites is inconsistent and does not always comply with the clinical guidelines.

“The reason for this is primarily due to the lack of breast radiologists and wider workforce issues.

“The shortage of breast radiologists is a national issue.”

As party of the NHS Healthy Conversation 2019, it’s being proposed more breast cancer services are centred on Lincoln including the creation of a new £4.7m centre, though no funding has been identified to afford it.

The ULHT say this will mean 1,151 patients having to go elsewhere for services, 22.7 per cent of all users.
Many treatments including chemotherapy and radiotherapy would still be available at Pilgrim Hospital and through the mobile chemotherapy unit.

The report continues: “We think that a centre of excellence approach would work well in Lincolnshire, and has already proven so in rural Cornwall

“We think this will help us address the quality of care issues and shortage of specialist staff. In practice this emerging option would mean that all follow-up outpatient appointments and routine breast mammography screening services would continue to be available across the county as they are now.”

  • An NHS engagement event is taking place at Spalding’s United Reformed Church from 2pm to 7pm on Thursday, June 13.

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