NEWS

The Cancer Research Campaign has warned that major problems with the national breast screening service - including concerns about quality, and the suspension of local services - are likely to continue until there is a significant increase in staff recruitment.

The warning came as one of the largest breast screening services in the country, in west London, remains suspended 'for the forseeable future'.

The West of London Breast Screening Service, run by Hammersmith Hospitals trust, has been suspended for three and a half months since the unit proved unable to adhere to national reporting protocols.

And last week at the General Medical Council, a case opened against two doctors who ran the East Devon Breast Screening Service, alleging the service was run so poorly between 1990-97 that tumours were missed in more than 12 women.

CRC head of clinical programme Dr Richard Sullivan told HSJ that although the national programme had a generally good record, serious problems were inevitable given how overstretched staff are.

He said: 'There is a tendency to criticise co-ordination, when we know it is the workload that is the problem. One of the issues is that radiologists are having to look at huge numbers [of mammograms]. You can't get around this idea of resourcing.'

Dr Sullivan said that with the right number of staff 'you have a far less stressed number of individuals and you can have colleagues to cross-check work.'

There was due to be a review of the suspension of the west London service as HSJ went to press, but the national service said it understood the suspension was for the 'forseeable future'.

A spokesperson said that women due to be screened by the service will not be seen at other trusts, which are themselves overstretched, and that simply transferring the service to another provider would be an enormously difficult process.However, a diagnostic service for symptomatic women referred by their GPs is being provided by the west London service.

The GMC case against the two doctors accused of not running the East Devon service properly is due to last another two months.