The coronavirus epidemic has affected all aspects of life in the UK and will have a disproportionate effect on patients who develop cancer during the pandemic. Recent articles suggest that the excess mortality from cancer will be very significant. Because of the reduction in breast clinic referrals many thousands of women across the country have not accessed breast services over the last few months, and within this group will be patients whose diagnosis has been delayed.
To further exacerbate this the breast screening programme has been paused since March and is only now restarting as it was essential that protocols were developed to ensure a safe screening environment for all users. In 2018/19 the Breast Screening Programme in England sent screening invitations to 2.93 million women and diagnosed 19,558 breast cancers (https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/breast-screening-programme/england—2018-19). Thus, there are now nearly 1 million ladies across the country whose appointments have been delayed due to the pandemic and also once appointments start up again and take longer due to safety measures.
The breast imaging workforce was in crisis before the pandemic with many centres struggling to meet the referral numbers. As restrictions are lifted there will be an enormous demand for diagnostic breast services but given the workforce issues this will be even harder to provide. All the training programmes set up by the National Breast Imaging Academy have had to be adapted with training for most slowed or where possible moved online, and The Academy is doing everything possible to maximise training by developing new apprenticeships and new training programmes for medical staff. But to maximise this training we need a suitable environment with improved access to mammogram and ultrasound machines for the trainees.
Unless we act now and create an appropriate building in which we can train the staff to provide these services, we will be unable to meet the increased demand over the coming months and years and lives will be lost. Before the coronavirus crisis many breast services were failing to meet their targets for diagnosis and given the massive surge in demand we will see in a few months, without a huge investment in training now, we will be unable to meet this.
We are seeking your help to realise this goal, a goal that has become even more pressing as a result of coronavirus. The cost to build the National Breast Imaging Academy will be £7 million and to date The Academy team – with the support of several Prevent Breast Cancer funders, have raised over £2.2 million. We have fully developed plans for the building and planning permission is in place. All we need are the remaining funds and we can start construction.
We need to start building now in order to save lives, can you help?