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Just 10% of Blackpool women with breast cancer symptoms seen by specialist within two week target

Just 10% of women in Blackpool suspected of having breast cancer are being seen by a specialist within the government's two week target.

The national target is that 93% of people should be seen in that timeframe after being referred.

NHS leaders in Lancashire have met this week to address concerns over lengthening waits for patients whose GP has identified breast symptoms which require further investigation.

The figure is being blamed on increased numbers of referrals, staffing issues a lack of local scanning facilities.

The short-notice gathering of managers and clinicians was arranged by NHS England in response to lengthening waits in the county for patients whose GP has identified breast symptoms which require further investigation.

Although cancer might not initially be suspected by medics, such patients should be seen by a specialist within two weeks of being referred to hospital. NHS England’s target is for 93 per cent of those patients to be seen by a specialist in that timeframe.

At Blackpool Teaching Hospitals - the only Lancashire trust not meeting the standard in February - performance plummeted even further from 54 per cent to just 10 per cent a month later. That put it in the bottom five NHS trusts in England on that measure.   

Following the meeting, which took place on Monday, healthcare bosses across Lancashire and South Cumbria concluded that the rise in waiting times on the Fylde coast was the result of 'difficulties with workforce and imaging [scanning] capacity'. They said a county-wide plan was being developed to ensure referrals are as speedy as possible.

In February, three out of the four hospital trusts offering a cancer diagnostic service in Lancashire all came within three percentage points of achieving the national standard. However, by March - the latest month for which published figures are available - there had been a significant drop in performance at all but one of them. 

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals (LTH) – which runs the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital - saw 71 per cent of patients within a fortnight, while at University Hospitals Morecambe Bay -  which runs the Royal Lancaster Infirmary - the figure fell to 54 per cent.

East Lancashire Hospitals bucked the trend, increasing its performance to 96 per cent.

Jessica Morris, who analyses NHS trends for the health thinktank the Nuffield Trust, said the situation in Lancashire mirrored a decline in national performance, where the 93 per cent target has not been met for almost 18 months.

''Only 79 per cent of patients with breast symptoms were seen by a consultant within two weeks of a GP referral in March 2019. Alongside this, there has been an overall decrease in outpatient appointments for people with breast symptoms since 2014.

''This fall in capacity is just one sign of the enormous pressure that the NHS is under, with staff shortages and stretched resources,” Ms Morris added.

A spokesperson for Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria said: ''“Waiting times for women referred for suspected breast cancer across the Fylde coast have risen recently due to some difficulties with workforce and imaging capacity.

''To address those concerns, senior clinicians and managers from across Lancashire and South Cumbria are working together to develop a plan to ensure that those women are seen as quickly as possible.

''The first focused meeting of those clinicians was held on Monday 10th June,  and the aim is to put in place practical steps that will have an impact as soon as possible, whilst longer term solutions are sought.

''The benefit of working together as an Integrated Care System is that organisations are able to collaborate to deal with challenges such as this across the whole of the region, rather than just focusing on individual services or organisations.''

An England-wide review of waiting time standards is currently underway.

The two-week referral target for patients exhibiting breast symptoms to be seen in outpatients could be replaced with a new standard which guarantees that there will be a maximum 28-day wait for such patients to receive a definitive diagnosis.

''Recognising that our current standards measure the time to be seen by a doctor, rather than time to being provided a diagnosis of cancer, the independent cancer taskforce recommended the introduction of a new faster diagnosis standard'',  a recently-published interim report by the NHS national medical director, Prof Stephen Powis, notes.

The number of people being referred for all urgent cancer tests has doubled since 2010, with just under two million people receiving a two-week referral for suspected cancer in 2017/18

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