Breast cancer time bomb as screening drops and waiting lists rise | Fieldfisher
Skip to main content

Breast cancer time bomb as screening drops and waiting lists rise

Worrying data this month from the NHS is that patients in some parts of the UK face more than a year-and-a-half wait for certain hospital treatments, far exceeding NHS targets that 92 per cent should be treated within 18 weeks of GP referral.

Different areas of the country fared worse for certain treatments -  with patients, for example, in Bedfordshire hospitals waiting 89 weeks for orthopaedic treatment, those within the Lancashire Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust waiting 95 weeks for breast surgery, while in West Suffolk, the wait for colorectal surgery was 80 weeks.

To make matters worse, with six million people already on the waiting list, health secretary Sajid Javid has admitted the wait is likely to continue to rise over the next two and a half years, putting at fundamental risk the Government's 10-year strategic 'national war on cancer' announced last month, which focuses first and foremost on early diagnosis. The Government's 'war' includes 10m extra diagnostic tests — including for breast cancer — conducted by 2025 in diagnostic hubs set up within the community in car parks and shopping centres.

Among my case load, the figure that perhaps is the most concerning is that half of women with breast cancer symptoms are waiting longer than the two-week target for referral, with many already referred to a breast cancer specialist waiting more than a month to be seen.

This relegates breast cancer treatment to a record low and much worse than other cancers, such as lung, testicular and brain cancer where more than 90 per cent of people are still being seen within the recommended two weeks.

On top of this, NHS England reported today that the number of women screened for breast cancer last year was a million lower than pre-pandemic levels, making it the lowest number of women screened for two decades.

The unsurprising outcome is that 7,000 fewer breast cancer cases were detected during 2020/21 compared to the previous year.

Generally, women are invited for initial breast cancer screening between the ages of 50 and 53, and then invited to checks once every three years until they are 70. Across all age groups, national coverage for breast cancer — the proportion of women checked every three years — dropped during the first year of the pandemic and was lowest among 53 to 54-year-olds.

London had the lowest screening levels at just over 50 percent, followed by the North West and the West Midlands.

The brutal truth is that these delays in diagnoses will reduce women's survival chances from a cancer that had sat within the top five of most survivable cancers five years after diagnosis.

Read about our cancer misdiagnosis claims.