EVEN though Suzanne Hinchliffe, the chief nurse at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, maintains that breast cancer patients have not come to harm because of treatment delays at her hospital, this is no consolation to those women – and their families – who have suffered added anxiety.
Like all hospitals, the expectation is that hospitals in Leeds will see new referrals within 14 days. Yet, shockingly, this target was not met on 1,400 occasions in the three months of June for a variety of reasons.
And it does not end here. A further 319 individuals waited between three and four weeks for specialist appointments according to official statistics while 51 women had to endure a wait in excess of 28 days – more than double the Government’s recommended time limit.
Given these are people who have had undergone breast screening tests which revealed abnormalities, this is unacceptable. For, while Ms Hinchliffe, who is also the Trust’s deputy chief executive, appears confident that remedies are now in place, services should not have become so stretched that the hospital could not meet a crucial and basic benchmark.
When as few as 13 per cent of women referred to the hospital for suspected breast cancer were seen within 14 days in May alone, there is clearly something very wrong with the Trust’s management and planning. With early diagnosis and treatment crucial to the long-term prognosis and health of all cancer patients, and the hospital clearly caught out by an increase in referrals and staff sickness, it suggests the issue is one of resources, and Ms Hinchliffe needs to address this before lives are put at unnecessary risk.