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NHS Tayside admits breast cancer patients are being sent elsewhere for care

Headlines about the NHS Tayside treatment scandal.

Bosses at NHS Tayside have admitted breast cancer patients are being forced to travel to other health board areas for care after weeks of claiming staffing issues had “no detriment” to the public.

We can reveal some women with early stage cancer have been sent to Aberdeen for initial meetings with a consultant drafted in from NHS Grampian to help shore up Tayside’s beleaguered oncology team.

Patients referred with a breast abnormality, usually through their GP, have also been forced to attend surgical clinics in Forth Valley “if they wish the earliest possible appointment”.

NHS Forth Valley will continue to run these additional clinics for the Tayside diagnostic service until the end of the year because of a shortage of radiologists.

The diagnostic team runs separately from the breast oncology service – the treatment team in place for patients who have a definite diagnosis of breast cancer.

Sent to Aberdeen

All early breast cancer patients in Tayside are currently being seen by the consultant from NHS Grampian following an exodus of oncologists who claim they were “thrown under the bus” by management in the wake of a chemotherapy dosing scandal.

We have learned patients are being offered initial consultations by video link with the Grampian doctor, while others have been forced to travel to Aberdeen directly.

The issues came to light after patients, doctors and local politicians came forward with concerns over claims made by NHS Tayside about where services are being delivered.

Presented with a list of concerns, NHS Tayside’s medical director Peter Stonebridge insisted patients “should be reassured that all treatment is delivered in Tayside”.

However, he also confirmed a “small number” of early breast cancer patients had been sent to Aberdeen for their first appointment.

Professor Stonebridge said this is “due to their individual clinical presentation and is done in discussion with the patient”.

Peter Stonebridge (centre)

“None of these patients who have gone for that single appointment in Aberdeen have raised any concerns directly with the service,” he added.

Professor Stonebridge also confirmed NHS Forth Valley will continue providing additional support for routine referrals to the diagnostic service.

He said: “Some patients are offered the option to go there if they wish the earliest possible appointment. These extra clinics will run until the end of the year.

“If anyone has an urgent referral, they are seen in Tayside.”

Constituents tell MSP they regularly travel for treatment

North East Labour MSP Michael Marra said the defence “being pumped out by the press office” at NHS Tayside “shows little relation to the lived reality of too many women and families”.

He said: “Constituents are telling me that they regularly have to travel out of Tayside for treatment.

“They also face significant and worrying delays in accessing diagnosis and treatments.”

Scottish Labour education spokesman Michael Marra

Mr Marra acknowledged many patients receive outstanding care but said “too many are not, and the situation is set to deteriorate further as local specialist provision in key aspects of care is lost early in the new year”.

Further staffing problems on the horizon

We reported previously how NHS Tayside’s only breast radiotherapy specialist will retire in January at 57-years-old, leaving the region with just one breast oncologist.

That oncologist, who was recruited in August, will cover the board’s advanced breast oncology service but cannot do radiotherapy work.

The early breast cancer service will be delivered by the specialist from NHS Grampian but concerns have been raised about the long-term future of treatment in Tayside.

NHS Tayside said recruitment to replace their only radiotherapy oncologist “is continuing alongside an exploration of other service delivery options”.

NHS Tayside Cancer Care Support Group founder Lee Dennis.

Lee Dennis, from the NHS Tayside cancer care support group, said it is “not practical or reasonable to have patients travelling long distances in order to attend consultations”.

She said this “creates a burden of stress for people who are already undergoing some of the most worrying and stressful times in their life”.

Mrs Dennis, a mum of four from Perth, is one of 200 patients left searching for answers after being given lower than standard doses of chemotherapy by NHS Tayside.

She insisted there should be a “thorough focus on correcting the severe staff shortages we are seeing currently in NHS Tayside’s oncology department.”

“Cancer patients do not anticipate this level of management instability when they are facing a life-threatening crisis,” she said.

“The inadequacy of local cancer care provision in one of the most deprived areas of Scotland is a scandal.

“The fear and uncertainty that comes with a cancer diagnosis should not be compounded by fear and uncertainty over where that care is going to be given – or if they even have the staff.”

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