28th June 2022
MP Helen Morgan has demanded the Government act to recruit NHS staff and improve breast cancer diagnosis times after new figures revealed Shropshire has some of the worst referral delays in the country.
Fewer than one in eight people (13.1%) with suspected breast cancer in Shropshire are being seen by a specialist within the two-week target time despite the Government standard being 93%, the latest NHS figures show.
And many of these people also faced long delays accessing breast screening, with more than 17,000 women in Shropshire currently overdue an invite for a mammogram. Market Drayton is set to lose its mobile breast cancer screening unit as all NHS scans are moved to Shrewsbury and Telford hospitals.
- 17,725 women are overdue a breast scan at SaTH. This includes 2,669 women in Market Drayton, 4,235 in Bridgnorth and 10,821 in Shrewsbury.
- 13.1% of people with suspected breast cancer are seen by a specialist within two weeks of referral at SaTH. The target is 93% and the average in England is 54%.
- This ranks SaTH as 106th out of 117 hospital trusts in England for 14-day referrals.
- 56% of people suspected to have breast cancer in Shropshire have to wait more than 28 days to see a specialist despite the target time being two weeks.
- SaTH is spending between £2.5 million - £3 million each month on agency staff.
North Shropshire MP Helen Morgan said: “Early diagnosis is key to effective breast cancer treatment and that’s why the Government needs to do much more to clear this backlog and get people screened and checked much faster.
“There are delays in many areas of the country but, just like with ambulance delays, it is rural areas like Shropshire where the issue is particularly bad, largely due to issues with recruitment.
“There are clearly serious issues with the two key early stages of breast cancer treatment: screening and accessing a specialist. There is a huge backlog of women waiting to be screened and those that have been referred, either by a GP or after a screening, are then facing long waits to see a specialist and be diagnosed or cleared.
“Shropshire is so far away from hitting the target times for referral that it is clear major action is needed.
“The delays are reducing the chance of effective treatment if breast cancer is eventually found and leading to weeks or sometimes months of unnecessary anxiety for those who are eventually cleared.”
Just 13.1% of potential breast cancer patients were seen by a specialist at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust within a fortnight during the first three months of this year, ranking the hospital trust as 106th out of 117 providers. The target for two-week referrals is 93% and the national average is 54%.
More than half of the people (566 of 1,015) suspected to have breast cancer were forced to wait more than four weeks to see a specialist at SaTH.
Meanwhile the backlog of screening appointments is at 17,725. This includes 2,669 women in Market Drayton and 4,235 in Bridgnorth – both of which are set to lose their mobile breast cancer screening unit this year as the hospital trust centralises the service in a bid to clear the backlog.
Helen added: “It is good news that the hospital trust has a plan to increase the number of appointments and operate on a seven-day basis.
“However as all of these appointments will be at hospital sites it is crucial that support is given to those who will have difficulty reaching Telford or Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury is the easier hospital to reach via public transport but still requires at least two buses and takes around 80 minutes – double the car journey.
“The breast cancer team is just one of several at the hospital which has struggled to attract enough staff and that’s why the Government needs to come up with an effective plan to tackle this shortage. Simply advertising the same posts and hoping is not good enough.”
Around one in ten roles at Shrewsbury and Telford hospitals were vacant in April as the NHS trust attempts to recruit in numerous areas, including the breast screening unit which is short of the equivalent of 4.8 full-time staff members. Meanwhile the hospital trust is having to spend around £3 million each month on agency staff.
Helen has written to the Secretary of State for Health asking what steps he is taking to address the staff shortage at Shropshire’s main hospitals and has also signed a letter calling on him to increase the Faster Diagnosis Standard from 75% to the 95% level originally proposed in 2015.
This standard is a policy which means patients should have cancer ruled out or diagnosed within 28 days of referral. Experts say that as the majority of referrals do not result in a diagnosis, the 75% target can be met without any diagnoses being made which gives a false perception of success while inadvertently increasing the time it takes to get a diagnosis.