Surge in breast cancer referrals hindering waiting times says NHS trust

A surge in breast cancer referrals is hindering cancer waiting times being met – the NHS covering mid and south Essex has said.

Cancer diagnosis waiting times are expected to improve after falling back over Christmas – even though this is not expected to be at the expected standard target.

Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust has a target that 75 per cent of people are given their cancer diagnosis within 28 days by March 2024 – the faster diagnosis standard (FDS).

Performance was 57.9 per cent in January, down from 62.2 per cent in December. Both the Christmas holidays and the January strikes are being blamed for the drop.

However, a surge in breast cancer referrals has not met the expected 92 per cent performance which otherwise would have allowed the trust to meet the overall 75 per cent standard, it says.

The overall performance for March is expected to be 71 per cent.

The number of breast cancer referrals has been around 1,300 – compared to around 960 in March last year.

The trust says a full action plan will be implemented including improved triage pathways, as less than five per cent of 1,300 referrals per month have cancer and an increase in one ­stop capacity.

It adds the 77 per cent diagnostic standard will be met in 2024. The trust plans to have no more than 475 patients waiting over 62 days to start to receive treatment by the end of March 2024. As of 18 March, this number was at 495 patients.

Laura Harding, medical director at Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, said: “Breast cancer is a particular area of concern and some of this was around a real increase in referrals that we had not anticipated in southwest Essex.

“We are getting about 1,300 referrals a month just for breast. Not every patient has breast cancer but if you think that it is a large number of patients being referred in – seeing a big surge like that means no matter how much you have your capacity if you see a surge like that we can’t always flex enough to meet that.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter