Measures to cut breast cancer scan delays in Wakefield 'not sustainable'

It was revealed in February that the local NHS was struggling to see patients referred for a breast cancer scan quickly enough.
It was revealed in February that the local NHS was struggling to see patients referred for a breast cancer scan quickly enough.

Temporary measures to cut delays in breast cancer scans are not sustainable, one of Wakefield's most senior NHS figures has warned.

Pat Keane, the deputy chief officer of Wakefield Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said that patient waits to be seen by a specialist after a GP referral had reduced, but that a "long term challenge" remained.

Waits have come down but a "long-term challenge" remains

Waits have come down but a "long-term challenge" remains

In February, it was revealed that the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust was struggling to cope with a huge spike in breast cancer referrals over the winter, despite putting on "more capacity than ever before". Staff sickness and leave in radiology departments were partly behind the problem.

The trust, which runs Pinderfields, Pontefract and Dewsbury Hospitals, was seeing around two thirds of such patients within the recommended two-week timeframe.

Now, following an emergency breast cancer summit which was held by local health bodies on April 8, more people are being scanned on time and long waits have come down.

Among 10 specific measures agreed at that meeting, the trust has asked for more support from NHS colleagues in South Yorkshire and will try to use other alternative providers for screenings where possible.

A report on the issue was put before the CCG's May board meeting on Tuesday, at which nursing representative Diane Hampshire said the language used "wasn't overly reassuring" about the problem.

In response, the CCG's chief officer Jo Webster said: "Let me reassure you that since the summit things have improved.

"The challenge (faced by the trust) was one of workforce and demand. There’s a whole variety of reasons.

"The summit was about exploring the ways we can approach the issues that have come out, in terms of the spike in referrals we had over January and February time."

It was suggested earlier this year that a soap storyline in Emmerdale may have contributed to the sharp increase in patients being sent for screenings.

GPs in Wakefield have been written to about the new measures, while it is believed that breast cancer diagnoses have not risen locally.

Deputy chief officer Pat Keane told the board that patients' average waiting times had come down from 28 days to 14.

But he added: "That’s not sustainable because we’ve put temporary measures in place.

"When the trust first encountered this problem, when they looked around for the workforce there was nobody there.

"A lot of other trusts were in the same boat.

"One of the reasons it has come down to 14 days is because referrals have dropped off. If they spike again, (waits) will increase again.

"So we have managed to get those referrals back to where they should be, but there’s a long term challenge there."

But board member and Chapelthorpe GP Clive Harries said: "I’m not actually convinced the problem has been solved.

"If you look at the trends there have been variations in referrals, but in the main they have been stable.

"I don’t think this is a problem that’s going to go away."

Local Democracy Reporting Service