'Significant concern' as urgent referrals for breast cancer ‘severely impacted’

Urgent referral targets for suspected breast cancer patients have been severely impacted during the pandemic and are of ‘significant concern’, health chiefs say.

Health commissioners in Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin raised concerns as it emerged the NHS two-week wait target – the time from being referred by a GP to seeing a specialist – was only delivered in about 25 per cent of cases during October.

The figure for Shropshire was 30.2 per cent and 20.4 per cent in Telford & Wrekin – the target is 93 per cent.

Board members were told it is being impacted by capacity restrictions caused by the pandemic, and related to ‘estate changes’ impacting waiting room space and the ability to maintain social distancing in waiting areas at Shropshire’s acute hospitals.

They were told work is planned at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH) to address this but there is no date yet when it will be finished.

Since then, SaTH says it has taken action to create an additional waiting area which will reduce wait times from Monday.

Dr Julian Povey, chair of the CCGs, said the numbers were “very worrying”, while accountable officer David Evans said it was not an acceptable rate and something needed to be done about it.

Speaking at a recent board meeting of the CCGs, Dr Julie Davies, director of performance, said: “The particular challenge we’ve had with SaTH, within breast, is because of infection control issues and capacity within the estate.

“There is some estate work being carried out at SaTH.


“Unfortunately I still haven’t got a date of when that’s going to be completed.

“But we have been told within one to two weeks of that work being completed, that breast capacity will get back up to the equivalent of pre-Covid levels.”

Speaking about cancer services, Dr Davies said: “We are doing everything we can as a system and we are now in detailed negotiations with the Nuffield to gain access to the extra capacity there to continue to deliver our urgent elective and cancer patients.”

A performance report to the board said SaTH, which runs Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, was having weekly calls with the West Midlands Cancer Alliance (WMCA) to explore if there is any additional capacity out of county.

Mr Evans said he would raise the issues regarding breast figures directly with SaTH’s chief executive Louise Barnett as an area of “significant concern”.

Nigel Lee, chief operating officer at SaTH, said: “During the first wave of the pandemic, in line with national guidance, our breast screening and imaging services were suspended. This area was then utilised to support radiology in providing a Covid-safe environment for their outpatients.

“The breast services have subsequently been re-instated but not at full capacity due to ongoing restrictions caused by Covid-19.

"This has unfortunately meant that some of our breast patients have had a longer wait for a first outpatient appointment, for which we apologise.

“To manage this, we have created an additional radiology waiting area on the main hospital corridor at PRH which means that from Monday we will be able to safely increase outpatient appointments for our breast patients and reduce the wait to be seen to 14 days, whilst maintaining a safe pathway for our radiology outpatients.”

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