News last week that NHS cutbacks are harming quality of care for cancer patients was yet another blow to patients following a flurry of recent, concerning news stories surrounding cancer care. Experts are warning that quality of care is already deteriorating because of a funding squeeze, despite a huge increase in referrals.
It is absolutely imperative that this situation, where budgets are being squeezed despite an increase in cancer diagnoses and better survival rates, is improved so those waking up to the harsh reality of breast cancer receive the patient care and support they need.
Hearing the news that you have breast cancer can be extremely frightening. An experience which becomes even more distressing when you face further worry and uncertainty as to the quality of care you will receive.
We speak to thousands of women before, during and after their breast cancer diagnosis. People regularly call our helpline in a great deal of distress over the brutal impact of a breast cancer diagnosis. And many more are already coping with unrelenting hospital visits, debilitating side effects of treatment and the endless disruption to family life.
This is why it's so important cancer patients receive the very best quality of care. We want to be the best country in Europe for cancer care, a goal that we must strive to achieve. However, just this month it was announced that the two week waiting time for patients with breast symptoms has dropped below the NHS target, becoming longer, for the first time due to a huge increase in GP referrals.
We know that a delay in diagnosing breast cancer can, for some, adversely affect how successful treatment is. Many women tell us that going to their GP about a breast symptom can be terrifying. When someone is brave enough to take this step, then all must be done to support them, ensure they are cared for and referred in a prompt and timely fashion to reduce their anxiety as far as possible as they wait and see a specialist.
In this time of tightened purse strings we must use the funding we do have wisely. We must use this increase in GP referrals to our advantage and recognise it as a positive step and opportunity for early detection of breast cancer. We know that the earlier someone is diagnosed the more effective their treatment may be, which in turn can bring about huge savings in terms of both human and financial cost, as it could prevent the need for further treatment.
And so, we must continue to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Nearly 55,000 people are diagnosed each year, and around two thirds of these have symptoms before diagnosis (only a third are found by routine screening). It's vital that people are confident about recognising breast changes and report them without delay. Most changes won't turn out to be breast cancer, but people mustn't be scared of talking to their GP or delay going because they think their GP will just be too busy. Beyond potentially preventing further, costly treatment, early detection can make a significant contribution to saving lives.
Anyone with any questions or worries about breast cancer or breast health can call Breast Cancer Care's Helpline on 0808 800 6000 or visit their website.