NHS failure to meet breast cancer referral targets and lack of screening for over 70s

Recent criticism from MPs has highlighted issues in the NHS breast screening programme, following a recent report suggesting the NHS is not doing enough to protect older women from breast cancer.

This follows new NHS England figures which reveal that targets to treat patients referred with suspected cancer in England were missed during every quarter of the last year.

Half of deaths from cancer occur in the over 70s, however a recent report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Breast Cancer (APPG) has shown that although women between the age of 50 and 70 are offered regular mammograms, pilot schemes are often focused on younger age groups, with those over 70 often being overlooked.

The APPG has called for the age to be increased to 76 to ensure older women receive the same level of care as those in the younger age brackets. This proposal has been supported by health officials, however since this proposal two years ago the NHS has spent two thirds of funding on current pilots for younger age groups.

The 2014 NHS breast screening plan outlines the aims of the programme including reducing the number of women who die from breast cancer by 20%, but yet it overlooks those within the most common age group to die of the disease in the over 70s. It does report in this plan that it ‘will screen women aged 71 or over who self-refer every three years’, but this is not by invitation and women must meet a particular criteria or be considered high-risk in order to be screened.

Recent NHS England figures also reveal that in every quarter of the last year, targets to treat patients referred with suspected cancer were missed. In England, the NHS aims to treat 85% of patients within 62 days of being referred by their GP; however figures dropped to 83.5% between July and September 2014 and remained below this target for each quarter of the year. Failure to meet these targets could also lead to late cancer diagnosis or even cancer misdiagnosis, limiting the effectiveness of treatment. In this situation patients may be entitled to make a claim for compensation.

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy and information called for urgent action to support the NHS in ending this target breach, commenting that ‘These targets exist to ensure swift diagnosis of cancer and access to treatment,’ and that ‘these targets are vital if we’re serious about having the best survival rates in the world’.

If you or a member of your family has experienced unnecessary delays in the diagnosis or treatment of cancer, call the clinical negligence specialists at Blackwater Law Solicitors for free initial advice.

Commenting on these most recent statistics, Dominic Graham, Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Blackwater Law, said:

‘‘A delay in cancer diagnosis can have huge implications for patients. It risks patients being unable to get the medical treatment they need and it can also reduce the likelihood that any treatment they do receive will be effective.

The referral of patients to the necessary specialist in a timely manner is key to ensuring they get the best support and treatment as soon as possible. It is important the NHS receive the support they need to reach screening and referral targets as the risk of not meeting these is simply too high.’’

If you or a family member have received a late cancer diagnosis and you feel that the effectiveness of your treatment may have been affected contact the solicitors at Blackwater Law for free initial advice and to determine if you may have a claim for compensation. Call us today on 0800 083 5500.