Four in five patients with suspected breast cancer are facing delays seeing specialists after a dramatic deterioration in waiting times.
The Yorkshire Evening Post can today reveal more than 1,000 patients waited beyond the official 14-day NHS deadline in the three months to June in Leeds after being urgently referred with suspicious symptoms.
The delays - among the worst in England - come amid significant wider pressures on breast services in West Yorkshire.
Delays are being blamed on shortages of doctors, staff sickness and higher-than-average referral rates.
A leading charity described the performance as “shocking”, and warned cash and staff shortages were “stretching the NHS to breaking point”.
Only one in five of 1,300 patients referred with suspected breast cancer in Leeds were seen within 14 days between April and June, new figures show.
A total of 319 people waited between three and four weeks for specialist appointments - and 51 faced waits of more than 28 days. The performance is the second worst in the country behind only hospitals in Essex, where one in 10 patients were given tests within two weeks against the national target of 93 per cent, with the NHS trust based in Lincoln also performing poorly.
Gunes Kalkan, head of policy and campaigns at the charity Breast Cancer Care, said: “These shocking figures are intensely troubling as the sooner breast cancer is diagnosed and treatment begins, the more effective it may be. Finding a breast change is utterly terrifying - we constantly hear from women overwhelmed with fear about a lump or inverted nipple - and being made to wait longer for a potential diagnosis will cause huge anxiety, severely impacting day-to-day life. Underfunding and staff shortages are stretching the NHS to breaking point.”
Official papers reveal substantial wider pressures on breast services across West Yorkshire and Harrogate have triggered an “urgent review” of capacity by NHS chiefs which is due to be completed within weeks.
Suzanne Hinchliffe, chief nurse and deputy chief executive at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We are sorry that some patients have experienced longer than normal waiting times in the breast service.
“This is due to a number of reasons including a small increase in demand, difficulty recruiting into some specialist areas of the service and sickness within the team. We have worked hard to address all of these and waiting times within the breast service have now significantly improved.”