Women with signs of breast cancer wait months as Labour breaks manifesto pledge

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Women with signs of breast cancer wait months as Labour breaks manifesto pledge

Post  Get'emGonçalo on Mon Dec 21, 2009 8:47 pm

All patients with symptoms of the disease should be seen by a specialist within two weeks of visiting their GP, following a promise made before the last election.

Labour said the NHS would meet the pledge by 2008 – a deadline it later extended to the end of this month.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, he also indicated that figures which will document widespread failings to meet the target are unlikely to be published before a general election.

Charities said last night that they were "deeply concerned" that thousands of women are routinely being left in an anxious limbo, waiting to find out if they have cancer, with delays that could worsen their prognosis and threaten lives.

Experts also expressed fury that Labour might not be held to account for failure to meet its high profile pledge.

In 2000, the Government introduced a maximum 2-week waiting limit for those cases where GPs suspected breast cancer.

However, research found that family doctors were unable to accurately identify such cases. One study found higher rates of cancer among women whose referrals had not been fast-tracked; latest figures on newly diagnosed breast cancer sufferers show half had not been given an urgent referral.

The newer target, drawn up as part of the 2005 manifesto, means that by the end of this month, all women who see their GP about any kind of "breast symptom" should be seen by a specialist within 2 weeks.

Prof Richards admitted the deadline -already postponed from 2008 – will not be hit.

"The feedback I am getting is that across the country as a whole we haven't made sufficient progress," he said.

The Department of Health's national cancer director said he was "hopeful" that the commitment would be achieved six months after its deadline.

"I am confident we will hit the target but I am not confident we will get there by the date we said," he said.

In a report for the NHS, Prof Richards described "significant concerns" about the NHS' efforts to reduce waiting times for women with symptoms of breast cancer.

He told The Sunday Telegraph: "We know that this is a very anxious time for women. If they are being referred to a specialist because of breast symptoms they are going to worry."

Latest quarterly figures show that of more than 9,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer, almost half had not been given an urgent referral by their GP.

While data was not yet available to show just how long such women were waiting, "most" would be referred within six to eight weeks of seeing their GP, as part of a wider NHS target which means all treatment should happen within 18 weeks of referral, Prof Richards said.

He said shortages of staff in hospitals who could carry out tests such as mammograms were one of the main obstacles to reducing waiting times.

Prof Richards said not all symptoms of breast cancer were easy to recognise. While most women and their doctors recognised a single breast lump as a possible indication of cancer, general lumpiness, and other symptoms including blood and discharge, were less clear indicators.

Many young women worried unduly about breast cancer, while older women tended to dismiss their fears, experts said.

Breast cancer is now Britain's most common cancer. Of around 45,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year, more than three quarters involve woman aged 50 or over.

Prof Richards said that although official monitoring of the two week target will start on January 1st, he did not expect to publish figures until May – meaning the extent of the failure on a manifesto pledge is likely to be hidden until after a general election.

Last night Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, expressed concern about the delays for women and

anger about the notion that Labour could go into the next election without being held accountable for a previous manifesto pledge.

He said: "We think this is a major concern. It is five years since [then health secretary] John Reid said before the last election that all women would be seen within two weeks of referral, not just those designated as urgent."

"Women are being left with enormous anxiety and stress, as well as at increased risk, for those who turn out to have cancer. Once you have gone to see your GP, and they have said you are being referred to a breast cancer clinic, it just isn't something you can forget about for five or six weeks".

The charity is furious that data detailing failure against the target might not be published until after a general election.

Mr Hughes said: "We are really concerned about the lack of data on this; we just don't think its acceptable to go into an election without this information".

Dr Jane Maher, Chief Medical Officer at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "When breast cancer presents and it is not a lump, GPs can find it difficult to assess, so it is really important that all women are sent to a specialist quickly."

She said it was equally important that women, especially the elderly, with the highest risk of breast cancer, went to see their GPs if they had concerns about changes to their breasts.

Anna Beckingham, aged 40, from Norwich, visited her GP practice three times because of concerns about a pea-sized lump and pains in her right breast.

The mother of two was first told that the changes were "probably hormonal," and related to recent breast feeding. Discharge was dismissed as likely to be caused by an infection. On a third visit, to a different doctor at the practice, she was given a "non-urgent" referral to hospital, but it was not until March 2007 – 14 months after she first saw her GP – that she was finally diagnosed with cancer.

By then, she had no option but to have a full mastectomy, to remove a growth which was now five centimetres in diameter, followed by reconstruction surgery.

Mrs Beckingham, who trained as a physiotherapist, fears many women who see their GP about symptoms of breast cancer are brushed away.

"I kept saying to the doctors, I really do think this is breast cancer, but every time, they were dismissive. I am quite a confident woman and I know something about medicine so I was prepared to stand up for myself – if I had given up, I think I would be dead by now."

Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/6844733/Women-with-signs-of-breast-cancer-wait-months-as-Labour-breaks-manifesto-pledge.html

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Re: Women with signs of breast cancer wait months as Labour breaks manifesto pledge

Post  flytrap on Fri Jan 08, 2010 6:24 pm

Have to say....I have needed to see my GP twice about lumps and both times they were ultra quick. Got hospital appointments within days. In fact at the hospital, after my first appointment they pushed me to agree to a small op as I was trying to take it in that I needed minor surgery......they just pushed and pushed....of course they were right, it was shock.

In within I think it was two/three weeks. NHS were absolutely brilliant. Didint even consider using our private healthcare...there was no need.
There are good and bad GP's unfortunately, same as every other profession.


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