Patients in Tayside will be left without any breast cancer doctors after the region’s last remaining specialist, who was only recruited in September, announced he is quitting the service.
Health chiefs were warned in November that the “decimation” of local care will cost lives when we revealed Dr Douglas Adamson will take early retirement this month.
He was one of only two remaining breast cancer specialists in NHS Tayside.
It was confirmed on Thursday – Dr Adamson’s final working day – that the department’s other consultant has also resigned and is expected to leave in the coming months.
That specialist was only hired in September following three rounds of recruitment but was unable to carry out certain tasks because Dr Adamson was the health board’s only breast cancer radiotherapy specialist.
A further consultant oncologist working elsewhere in the cancer service has also handed in their resignation to NHS Tayside.
A service in turmoil
The revelation is likely to throw the region’s care into further turmoil, with some patients already being sent to other health board’s for treatment.
Speaking at the Scottish Parliament, North East MSP Michael Marra called on Health Secretary Humza Yousaf to accept the service is in crisis.
He said: “I can inform Parliament and the minister that over recent days there have been two further resignations of consultant oncologists.
“This will leave NHS Tayside with no breast cancer oncology specialists and serious shortfalls in oncology consultant cover for other tumour sites.
“Putting aside the government’s and health quango’s incompetence that got us here, I implore on behalf of the women of Dundee and Tayside that the minister at long last treat this as the crisis it is.
“Will the minister immediately intervene to guarantee the full service recovery of breast cancer services in Dundee?”
Concerns dismissed as ‘political attacks’
Mr Yousaf accused the Labour MSP of “political attacks” as he pointed to the work being done by NHS Tayside to fill vacancies.
“I think it’s important to engage in this issue in a non-partisan way,” Mr Yousaf said.
“I think it’s important that we put the women and the patients who are affected by this very much at the heart of this.
“When he asks if I will intervene, I can give him an absolute assurance that I, and indeed other ministerial colleagues, have been deeply involved in this issue.”
The health secretary added: “Medical directors have been in contact with several of the larger cancer centres in England who are reporting similar challenges.
“So yes, we will absolutely work closely with Tayside. It is, of course, a deeply regrettable situation that they are in.
“It is not unique to Tayside, it is felt acutely in Tayside, but it is a wider issue.”
Patients sent to Aberdeen and Glasgow
Speaking later, Mr Marra blasted Mr Yousaf for heralding “as part of the solution to this crisis” the recruitment of a consultant who has already handed in his notice.
“Despite assurances over recent months, patients are now having to travel to Aberdeen, Glasgow and the Lothians for treatment,” Mr Marra said.
“This is an unacceptable situation, and it will be the illest and poorest women who are least able to travel.
“We desperately need solutions, but that can only be predicated on the admission of the severity of the situation.
“Astonishingly, the health secretary failed to do so once again today.”
NHS Tayside confirmed the breast medical oncologist hired in September has indicated their intention to leave the region following a six-month notice period “to take up employment opportunities outside Scotland”.
The health board said all recruitment opportunities are already being pursued to address the vacancy with the support of the Scottish Government.
NHS Tayside medical director professor Peter Stonebridge said the board “remains committed to delivering services locally, as long as it is safe for patients and, in this case, that requires a suitable specialist medical workforce”.
He added: “The board has also given an absolute commitment to rebuilding the breast oncology service within Tayside and to that end we are in ongoing discussions with the local oncology team, the medical school at Dundee University and the Scottish Government to look at all the available options open to us.”