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Persistent national variations in breast cancer care, enquiry finds

APPG final report shows this translates into stark health inequalities in parts of England

Caroline White

Friday, 02 March 2018

There are wide and ‘stark’ geographical variations in breast cancer care and outcomes across England, finds a report published earlier this week by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Breast Cancer.

The report, A Mixed Picture: An Inquiry into Geographical Inequalities and Breast Cancer, follows the conclusion of APPG’s inquiry into how women are diagnosed, treated, and cared for by the NHS across the country.

“When compared to other cancers, breast cancer outcomes are good and improving. However, this overall progress masks stark inequalities in diagnosis, treatment and care across the country. These unwarranted variations have an unacceptable impact on the experiences and outcomes of patients,” warns the report.

It singles out the impact of shortages in the diagnostic workforce on patients’ diagnosis and treatment as a result of retirement, and calls on the new local NHS structures (Sustainable Transformation Partnerships and Accountable Care Systems) to grasp opportunities to use data to drive service improvements by sharing best practice with one another.

President of the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR), Dr Nicola Strickland said that the report, “Provides evidence for the fact that, despite the best efforts of cancer care staff, outcomes for patients can, and do, vary across England, as our members specialising in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment are only too well aware.”

She went on: “The RCR is extremely grateful to the inquiry team for stressing the ‘demographic time bomb’ in breast radiologist staffing, with high levels of retiring consultants and challenges around recruitment and retention.

“Latest RCR statistics show a third of the breast radiologist workforce is expected to retire during the next five years, and our members tell us ever-increasing demand means they are already working above and beyond their capacity in daily practice.”

She added: “We specifically welcome the report’s calls for improved recording and use of data to benchmark and improve geographical inequalities in care, and agree that dedicated local plans to address workforce shortages must be a key priority for providers and commissioners.”

And she concluded: “The APPG report keenly addresses constraints among the diagnostic workforce and specialist cancer nurses, but we must not forget our non-surgical care experts.

“To give breast cancer patients the future care they deserve, we also need a concerted boost in clinical oncologist training numbers, and greater financial and systematic investment to support and train the wider oncology team.”

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