Breast team beat COVID backlog – North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust

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Our breast care team is crediting the commitment of staff, longstanding partnership work with GPs across the region and the bravery of patients for clearing the backlog of breast cancer scanning appointments created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust breast care team offers two diagnostic services – scans for symptomatic patients in Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees and routine scanning for all eligible women across the wider region.

Patients who develop symptoms of potential breast cancer are referred to their local hospital breast care unit by their GP. Patients in the Stockton and Hartlepool area are scanned and, if required, treated at the University Hospital of North Tees.

Where the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust breast service differs is its innovative approach to proactive, non-symptomatic scanning.

The Trust’s scanning service covers Stockton and Hartlepool as well as crossing into North Yorkshire, Redcar & Cleveland and County Durham.

The team scans patients in their top-of-the-line mobile scanning unit and can spend several months in one area as they carry out scans for all eligible women, who all receive a letter inviting them for an appointment.

The mobile service works in partnership with the wider GP network who are kept informed of their patients’ scans and of any required follow-up appointments.

Usually scanning some 5,000 women per month, the service’s temporary COVID-19 forced closure resulted in a significant backlog of more than 15,000 women.

The first breast care team in the northeast to restart services, colleagues were hard at work finding new ways of working to clear the backlog and make sure routine scans could take place on schedule as soon as possible.

Amanda Firby, breast screening and symptomatic services manager, said: “I knew our staff would do everything they could to get our service back on track, but I’m amazed at how effective they have been.

“They’ve worked incredibly hard to create a new booking system and found ways to make sure our scanning unit is COVID-safe and our patients don’t spend any more time there than needed.

“The staff also worked a lot of extra hours and at weekends which we all really appreciate.

“It’s also a credit to our patients who were brave and confident enough to come for their scans. We always do what we can to make the experience as comfortable as possible, but lots of people are understandably nervous when they come for a scan and the pandemic only made these concerns worse. Hats off to all the women who understood the importance of their breast scan and put their confidence in us to carry out their scan as safely as possible.”

Breast unit team

Amanda also complimented the local GP network. She said: “Our service runs smoothly with reports of scan results being automatically generated and sent to GPs throughout the region, many of whom would usually work with hospital trusts in their own patch.

“But the backlog meant many scans were out of sequence and at times more reports than usual were being sent back. Our partners in the GP network were 100 per cent on board with us and did their bit to make sure our service could operate to its fullest capacity.”

Throughout the COVID-1 pandemic, the service still treated all symptomatic patients within two-weeks of referral and any confirmed cancers were treated as priorities.

The breast care team, whose recent 20th anniversary was recognised by Cherie Blair QC, appeals to all women to regularly check their breasts and to report any changes or lumps to their GP straight away. If you are eligible for a routine scan, please take up your appointment when offered it but do not wait for your scan to report anything of concern. The sooner any investigation into a suspicious lump can begin, the more effective the treatment options available.

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