Hundreds of suspected breast cancer patients waiting too long for urgent tests at Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust

But women urged to make sure they keep their appointments

Monday, 22nd February 2021, 4:15 pm

Hundreds of patients with suspected breast cancer were not seen on time at Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust in December, figures show.

However, some of these were down to contributory factors - such as hospital staff having to self-isolate due to Covid and women being too scared to attend hospital due to the pandemic.

Cathy Jones, deputy chief executive, Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “We have now seen everyone who was waiting for checks, and all urgent breast referrals are currently being seen within two weeks, unless by patient choice.

Breast Cancer Now said the "frightening consequence" of such vital targets being missed across England was that more women could be living with the disease without knowing

“We were pleased to see more people come forward in November and December, showing the positive impact of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, and we would encourage anyone who has concerns to speak to their GP.”

However, charity Breast Cancer Now said the "frightening consequence" of such vital targets being missed across England was that more women could be living with the disease without knowing.

NHS England data shows 490 patients with suspected breast cancer were referred by GPs for urgent investigations at Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in December.

Of these, just 261 (53 per cent) were seen by a consultant within the recommended two-week window – down from 94 per cent in December 2019.

It was also well below the national NHS target for 93 per cent of all cancer patients to be seen within this time frame.

Across England, the proportion of patients seen within a fortnight fell from 90 per cent in December 2019 to just 71 per cent in December last year – the lowest figure for any month since records began in 2009.

Breast Cancer Now said the latest figures were "deeply worrying" and encouraged women to contact their GP if they find any new or unusual breast changes.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of the charity, said: “Facing longer waits at an already incredibly difficult time can cause women huge anxiety, and the frightening consequence of these vital targets being missed is that more women could be living with undetected breast cancer due to delayed diagnoses.

"This issue has to be addressed as early diagnosis is key to giving treatment the best chance of success."

NHS figures show just two-thirds of patients with breast cancer symptoms (when cancer was not initially suspected) were seen within two weeks in December – also a record low.

At Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust, 99 such patients were referred by GPs in December, with 58 seen within two weeks.

At just 59 per cent, this was down from 97 per cent the same month the previous year.

Baroness Morgan added: “At the end of a gruelling year, and still now, we know the diagnostic and imaging cancer workforce is working tirelessly under immense pressure, having already been chronically under-resourced pre-pandemic.

"This is why we urgently need the Government to make the long-term investment and take the strategic approach needed to address the profound scale of the crisis currently facing the cancer workforce."