Two-thirds of cancer waiting time targets are expected to be scrapped in a bid to speed up diagnosis.
The recent announcement in the Guardian of the new plans, also known as the Faster Diagnosis Standard, propose that patients who have been urgently referred, have symptoms of breast cancer, or have been picked up through screening, should have cancer ruled out or receive a diagnosis within 28 days.
We are of the same mind as Cancer Research UK in welcoming this streamlining of targets as it could be beneficial for patients, yet share their concerns that the Faster Diagnosis Standard cannot remedy years of underinvestment by the government. Without developing a clear strategy and investing in a fully staffed workforce, more people will miss out on life-saving breast cancer services.
Nikki Barraclough, Chief Executive of Prevent Breast Cancer, said:
“On the surface, the new plans could help identify breast cancer patients swiftly. But without addressing the workforce shortage and providing ongoing investment in cancer services, this group of newly diagnosed patients will face long and potentially life-threatening delays in treatment.”
Over the years, we’ve seen how devastating staff shortages can be. Demand for breast imaging has increased at a much faster rate than staffing numbers, causing longer waiting times for appointments and delays in treatment.
As a result, our number one priority is funding the National Breast Imaging Academy. The NBIA will offer excellent workforce training facilities, enable an extra 13,000 patients to be seen each year and provide additional capacity for research into breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
In a discussion about breast screening services being under strain and how the NBIA will make a difference, Prevent Breast Cancer Trustee and Consultant Radiologist, Dr Mary Wilson, said:
“The biggest challenge to fixing the screening backlog and expanding breast services is the workforce shortage. Recognising this, we have established the National Breast Imaging Academy (NBIA) which is funded by NHS England and hosted by Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust. Over the last three years it has worked collaboratively with breast training centres across the country, who, despite the pressures of the pandemic, have continued to prioritise training wherever possible.
Significant progress has been made, with 217 new mammography associates now in training and the establishment of 56 new medical training posts. However, to provide sustainable breast centres and staffing levels for the future, ongoing investment is required to support additional trainees and their clinical trainers.”
Our mission is to train the next generation of radiographers, radiologists and breast clinicians through the NBIA so that everybody has access to the care they need.
It’s essential that the government shares our sentiment and starts focusing on the bigger picture.
Though the Faster Diagnosis Standard aims to simplify ‘outdated’ standards, missed targets are largely due to years of underinvestment. It’s vital that they invest in the workforce and produce a clear strategy to avoid people missing out on lifesaving breast cancer services.