Ambitious £800,000 bid launched to stop ‘torture’ of waits for breast cancer diagnosis
Poignant stories of the devastating impact breast cancer has on the lives of both patients and families were told as plans were put in motion to improve services in Norfolk.
The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) launched an ambitious bid on Tuesday night to raise £800,000 to build a new, dedicated breast unit at the Colney site.
Bosses said currently for two thirds of women referred to the hospital with suspected breast cancer, they were offered a one-stop shop whereby all tests were carried out and returned in one day, meaning they found out whether or not they had the disease as soon as possible.
But for the remaining third they often faced an agonising wait if machines at the current unit were not available for scans due to a rocketing demand.
At the moment the unit sees 130 new patients a week from GP referrals, plus more from the national breast screening programme.
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Of those 130, nine will have breast cancer.
Rebecca Mayhew, 40, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and branded time waiting between appointments as 'torture'. Since her diagnosis referrals to the hospital has risen by 80pc and the mother-of-two from Woodton said: 'Until you get the diagnosis you are stuck, you are frozen.'
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Erika Denton, the hospital's medical director who also still runs clinics as a breast radiologist, said if for example they could do half of the diagnostic testing needed on one day, it could then be several weeks before the other half could be done.
She said one in eight women in Norfolk would get breast cancer.
'So it's more common in Norfolk than in everywhere else in the country,' she said.
'We want to make sure we're providing the best care for everyone.'
Anna Stevenson, from Norwich, also told the story of how her 36-year-old sister Rebecca Willcox's diagnosis had an impact on her family.
'My mum as she watches her youngest daughter dying, my brothers who do not talk about it and wonder why they can't protect their baby sister, and me and my sister who have survivors guilt,' she said.
'My 11-year-old asked me if I was going to die.'
However, she said 'by far the worst bit was the waiting'.
Sheila Glenn, NNUH divisional operations director, said demand for breast cancer had 'more than just risen, it's quadrupled'.
While Simon Pain, consultant breast surgeon, said: 'We've been doing this for a long time and now with increasing demand it's getting harder. I've just come from a clinic now where imaging was not available, it's immensely difficult for them and it can delay diagnosis. We're really struggling to see the people.'
Mr Pain said because the NNUH was considered a centre of excellence it became a double edged sword where demand rose because people wanted to be treated there.
'We are one of the largest centres in the country,' he said.
But he said the impact it had on patients when they had to be sent away again was traumatic.
He said: 'We see it all the time, they are worried, we can't do the scan today, we hate doing that. It's a dreadful situation.
'I want to do the best I can and I can't at the moment. We have fantastic staff and patients diagnosed with cancer get fantastic treatment. We want everybody to be as good as they can be.'
Mrs Glenn echoed that with her own experience, where it turned out she did not have cancer.
She said: 'I've been in that position when you first find a lump, you start to think this is cancer. There's a wait for the GP appointment, there's a wait when the GP refers you to a hospital. Every moment feels like a lifetime so by the time you get to the appointment you want it to be sorted.
'We don't want to be sending away women to wait for a scan. And it's families too, it impacts everyone.'
Already space had been set aside close to the hospital's GUM clinic and the staff were in place.
But the £800,000 needed would pay for a new imaging machine, allowing scans to be taken on the same day,
Mrs Glenn said she hoped people would be behind the appeal, called Boudicca, as 'this is their hospital and I think one of the things about this topic is it touches everyone'.
It was hoped the money could be raised in three years, although Mrs Glenn was adamant she wanted to see the aim reached sooner.
'I don't want to wait three years. I personally will be putting everything in to this,' she added.
Already donations of £160 each had been received from four of Norwich's Rotary clubs, while £2,500 was given by Kenninghall Kicking Cancer, a charity started in the village last year.