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‘Deep concern’ as NHS Grampian waiting list pressure sees breast cancer patients treated in central belt

By Jonny Clark

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‘DEEP concern’ has been raised about breast cancer patients in the NHS Grampian region travelling to the central belt for appointments and surgery.

Since October 2023, more than 500 patients have had appointments with NHS Forth Valley - which covers Falkirk, Stirling and Clackmannanshire - for initial breast cancer diagnosis. Around 20 patients have had surgery.

The arrangement - in place due to NHS Grampian waiting time concerns - is expected to run until the end of June, when the appointment of a new speciality doctor is expected to alleviate pressure.

Prior to October, appointments took place at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. This will continue to be the case from the end of June.

Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

By that time, NHS Grampian anticipate somewhere between 850 and 900 patients will have been seen by colleagues at NHS Forth Valley.

An NHS Grampian spokesperson said: "We accept our current waiting times for appointments for those referred with an urgent suspicion of breast cancer is too long. We also know behind those numbers are real people, with real worries about their health.

"Our colleagues in NHS Forth Valley were able to provide us with some additional support, offering both appointments and surgery if required.

“This began in October 2023. To date some 520 people have had appointments in Forth Valley, with approximately 20 undergoing surgery there.

"Although we have seen a reduction in our waiting times since October 2023, we are still not in a position to offer appointments within the recommended timescale.

“The current plan is we will continue to receive support from NHS Forth Valley up to the end of June 2024.

“During June, a new speciality doctor will join NHS Grampian, improving our ability to see and treat people locally. We are redesigning the service to make better use of our Advanced Nurse Practitioners, to further increase capacity.

"We want to stress this is the offer of an appointment. Anyone who is unable to go to NHS Forth Valley will remain on our waiting list for an appointment locally.

“Their position on the waiting list will not change as a result of them declining this offer. We meet travel expenses for those who do take up this offer.

"We want to record our thanks to our colleagues at NHS Forth Valley for their support.

“We would also take this opportunity to apologise for the current long waits for these appointments, which are due to a number of staffing challenges."

Moray patients had been travelling to Aberdeen prior to the changes.
Moray patients had been travelling to Aberdeen prior to the changes.

Vacancies in the radiology team are affecting waiting times at NHS Grampian, along with challenges around theatre capacity and bed availability. Regular treatment, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy, is continuing to take place in Grampian.

Moray’s MP Douglas Ross expressed his concern and said the situation was putting lives at risk.

He said: “I was deeply concerned to hear about this situation affecting hundreds of breast cancer patients in NHS Grampian and my thoughts are with them each and every one of them.

“While I know they will have received high-quality treatment at NHS Forth Valley, the fact they have had to travel so far will have been causing significant anxiety.

“The last thing they need is these lengthy trips of several hours at the same time they might be getting the worst possible diagnosis.

“These sort of delays for appointments and diagnosis are potentially deadly and lives will have been put at risk as a result of patients not being able to be treated in their own communities.

“Sadly, this is yet another example of Moray being short-changed when it comes to having access to vital healthcare services.

“SNP health secretary Neil Gray must address this situation and guarantee NHS Grampian will always have the necessary resources to treat breast cancer patients in hospitals in their own health board area.”

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