Belfast Telegraph

Woman hits out at proposal to site breast assessment network at three Northern Ireland hospitals

The Department of Health is consulting on changes to the breast assessment service.
The Department of Health is consulting on changes to the breast assessment service.
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

A Northern Ireland woman has hit out at plans for a re-organisation of breast assessment services in the health service.

The Department of Health (DoH) published a consultation at the end of last month proposing a regional breast assessment network located at Derry, Antrim and the Ulster Hospital to serve Belfast. Breast screening services, however, will continue to be provided across all five health trusts.

The department said that while it would mean longer journey times for patients "research suggests reasonable travel increases are acceptable to patients – if the result is more timely access to high quality care".

The new service is proposed to be in place by December 2020. The department said the current system was not providing appointments within national standard waiting times and so was "unsustainable" and would likely deteriorate.

The health department said research carried out by independent experts indicated that services which have reorganised into larger centres, catering to greater numbers of patients, deliver "more resilient and reliable services as they have greater numbers of personnel".

It said evidence suggested smaller centres had problems with "insufficient key personnel" and as a consequence delivered poorer results.

"Put simply, unless we make changes, more of our citizens will face increased delays in receiving breast assessment, including delays in finding out if they have cancer. We simply cannot tolerate such a situation," Department of Health permanent secretary Richard Pengelly said.

Donna Kearns is supporting a campaign to save the services at Craigavon Area Hospital (CAH). She said it already had a centre of excellence and was concerned the proposal would lead to a further reduction in services at the hospital. She questioned if the infrastructure was in place for the plans and asked why nowhere south of Dundonald - which is the likely location for greater Belfast in the plan - was considered.

She pleaded with the permanent secretary of the health department Richard Pengelly to talk to the women who had used the services at Craigavon.

"Ask the women who rely on and return to CAH year in year out we are the ones who know the service," she said.

"We can tell you what it’s like to travel to and from appointments with veins full of chemo, with our minds racing at the thought of a recurrence when going for screening.

"What about the excellent team of doctors consultants nurses radiographers etc what happens to them?"

Since making her impassioned plea on Facebook hundreds have responded supporting her.

In the consultation document Richard Pengelly said how the health service was organised was "of fundamental importance to the quality of services" he said the challenges it faced were not unique to Northern Ireland.

"That’s very clear when it comes to breast assessment," he said pointing to how women were waiting longer than the 14-day target.

"This is unacceptable, and without reform it will deteriorate further in future, despite the expertise and superb commitment of staff."

He said there were "no quick fixes".

"While we could try to persevere with the current arrangements for breast assessment, maintaining a struggling system and hoping it will all hold together a little while longer, that would mean accepting an increasingly vulnerable level of service.

"And the projected growth in demand will only add to this fragility."

The consultation runs until June 17 and is available here.

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