• Medway FT saw just seven out of 92 symptomatic breast referrals within two weeks
  • Trust says increased referrals contributed to low performance
  • Extra clinics and more staff to meet demand

A trust has apologised to patients after its performance against the two-week waiting time target for symptomatic breast referrals fell to less than 8 per cent.

Medway Foundation Trust saw just seven out of 92 patients referred in January within 14 days. The vast majority of patients had to wait for between 22 and 28 days for their first consultant appointment.

The performance in December was slightly better at 44.3 per cent, although this was still among the lowest performances in the country. The national standard is for 93 per cent of patients referred for investigation of breast symptoms, even if cancer is not initially suspected, to be seen by a specialist within two weeks.

Apologising to the patients affected by the delays, James Devine, chief executive of Medway FT, said: “A number of factors have affected our ability to see patients within two weeks, including a significant increase in the number of referrals across Kent and Medway.”

Mr Devine added that the trust had already taken steps to address the waiting times, including holding additional clinics at evenings and weekends, which had provided an additional 300 appointments in February and March. 

He added: “We are pleased to say that these actions have led to a substantial improvement in our two-week performance although there is still more work to do.”

Mr Devine also said the trust would continue to provide more clinics in the coming weeks and had recruited extra staff to support this. He added that was “currently working with our commissioners to develop an action plan to improve the management of referrals coming into the service and improve the speed in which we can offer appointments to patients with suspected breast cancer”. 

Mr Devine noted that, although the trust had struggled to meet the two-week target, its performance against the 62-day target was better. In January, the trust met the 62-day target in just under 66 per cent of cases, against a national standard of 85 per cent. 

Breast symptom referrals at many trusts have risen over the last year, after declining by 8 per cent year on year nationally in 2017-18. However, there is considerable variation between months. In December 2017, 14,611 patients across England were referred, with 94.2 per cent seen within 14 days. A year later, 15,387 were referred, but only 86.1 per cent were seen within two weeks.