Vale of Clwyd MP Dr James Davies has written to the Welsh Health Minister calling for her to improve breast cancer wait times and reduce the very high levels of variation in wait time performance across Welsh Health Boards.
The target for the proportion of patients starting treatment within 62 days of the point when cancer was first suspected (both urgent and non-urgent referrals) is 75%. As of March 2022, there was significant variation in the achievement of this between health boards, with performance ranging from 21% - 86% .
Since its introduction in December 2020, this target has only been met across Wales as a whole in one month of reporting (June 2021).
In January, James raised with the Prime Minister the plight of constituent, Carol Ridgway, who had been asked to wait eight weeks for an urgent appointment at her local breast clinic, compared to the frequently achieved two week "suspected cancer" waiting time in England.
Having recently attended Breast Cancer Now's 'Breast Cancer Early Diagnosis' parliamentary event, at which the charity launched their #NoTimetoWaste campaign and updated MPs on latest Breast Cancer Waiting Time figures, James has sent a letter to the Welsh Health Minister, Eluned Morgan MP, calling on her to respond to the figures and outline actions to improve wait times.
In addition, no annual screening performance data has been published by Breast Test Wales since their 2018/19 report, despite both the 2019/20 and 2020/21 data being available in Scotland and England. Without this information it is not possible to determine how many fewer women were screening and diagnosed with breast cancer due to COVID-19 disruption. Public Health Wales data shows that in March 2022, less than 4% of women in Wales were being offered a screening appointment on time (within 3 years of their previous episode). In October 2021 Public Health Wales estimated that fully recovering breast screening could take up to four years.
"Waiting for a diagnosis, or receiving one, can be a stressful time. It is unacceptable therefore that women in Wales, like my constituent, Carol, whose experience I highlighted in Parliament and who featured in a BBC programme on the failings of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, are facing such delays.
"I have sent a letter to the Welsh Health Minister asking the following question:
- What is being done to reduce the very high levels of variation in waiting times performance for breast cancer across Welsh Health Boards?
- What analysis is being done to identify the stages in the diagnostic pathway where patients are facing the longest periods of delay, from referral to starting treatment?
- When will Breast Test Wales publish the annual screening report from the last two complete years of data?
- What action is being taken to ensure that the breast screening programme in Wales can recover faster than current PHW estimates, without exacerbating inequalities in screening uptake?
"Breast Cancer Now told me their helpline is receiving calls from women in Wales experiencing significant waits for diagnosis and treatment. One woman had to wait 15 weeks to be seen in a breast clinic and another had to wait 15 weeks to start chemotherapy.
"As the charity have themselves told the Welsh Health Minister, "this can be incredibly worrying and devastating for patients and their families and could result in worse treatment outcomes".
"As recovery from the pandemic progresses, Breast Cancer Now are calling on the Welsh Government to find the opportunity to raise the ambition on the current target and the timescale to recover the 62-day pathway, so more women can benefit quicker from a higher quality of care, and I fully back these calls.
"As I have previously said, if people in the rest of the UK with suspected cancer symptoms can often expect to be seen within two weeks, then there really is no excuse as to why the same is not happening here in Wales."