Waits for breast cancer services in Shropshire falling but 'delays will continue'

Waits for suspected breast cancer patients to see a specialist grew to 35 days in January, but has since dropped to 21 days, a new report says.

Significant concerns have been raised about patients having to wait longer than the NHS two-week target, which has been severely impacted by the pandemic.

But health commissioners say improvements are being made.

The two-week wait target covers the time from being referred by a GP to seeing a specialist – and a new report to the governing body of Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin Clinical Commissioning Groups shows it was only met in 12.1 per cent of cases in Shropshire and 6.5 per cent in Telford and Wrekin during December.

In January, 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.

Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, which runs Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and Telford's Princess Royal Hospital, says it has taken action to create an additional waiting area to reduce wait times.

A new report to the CCGs' governing body, which meets virtually on Wednesday, says: "Since Covid began, the breast service was initially able to deal with the reduced demand but the first appointment time began to go above 14 days from August onwards.

"SaTH were initially only able to offer reduced numbers of slots per session due to infection prevention and control requirements for the pandemic, down from 25 to 15, but this has now recently returned to full capacity.

"SaTH are currently failing both the suspected breast cancer standard and the symptomatic breast standard. The suspected cancer and symptomatic referrals have different referral criteria but both have a target to be seen within 14 days.

"The current waiting time for patients on either pathway for their first appointment is 21 days which has come down from a longest wait of 35 days which it grew to in January."

It says numbers of referrals are nearly back to pre-Covid levels and the trust has completed estates work that allows patients to access radiology services safely and to utilise full capacity.

Challenge

"SaTH are looking to increase capacity wherever possible to see more people but generally demand matches current capacity with no means of bringing down waiting times," the report said.

"This means that the waiting times will take some time to get back down to 14 days and some degree of delay will continue."

Speaking ahead of the meeting, chair of the CCGs, Dr Julian Povey said: "It's an improving picture. It's logistically quite a challenge but the hospital are pulling out the stops to improve the waiting times."

The pandemic has also had an impact on the waiting times for patients needing planned operations and procedures, with urgent cases prioritised.

Dr Povey says it is important for people to come forward if they think it is causing them any harm or their condition is deteriorating.

He added: "If you've not been seen by anyone and you've been referred by your GP and you think things have changed, you must contact your GP again.

"If you've already been seen by the hospital and things have changed then you should contact the hospital."

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