CCG admits 3 year ‘temporary’ change needs to be addressed
Plans to bring breast cancer diagnosis back to Middlesbrough are finally being brought forward after a three-year “temporary” move to North Tees.
Although the move to the University Hospital of North Tees was meant to be temporary, the services never moved back to James Cook University Hospital. It means that patients living as far away as Staithes continue to be told they need to travel to Stockton for their appointments. In January, Middlesbrough Council’s Health Scrutiny Panel heard that women from the TS1 and TS3 postcodes – two of Middlesbrough’s most deprived areas – make up the majority of those who fail to attend breast screening appointments.
By April, the panel had decided to call on Health Secretary, Matt Hancock MP, to intervene after deciding talks with South Tees Clinical Commissioning Group (STCCG) had failed to produce results. Since then, the panel had put a hold on making the referral after receiving a letter from the CCG formally responding to the panel’s concerns.
Chief clinical officer, Neil O’Brein, had written to the panel and said the move “had lasted considerably longer than anticipated” because it was a struggle to recruit breast radiologists. He apologised on behalf of the CCG, which commissions health services in the region and met with councillors for the first time since elections in May.
Michael Houghton, director of commissioning and development with the CCGs in County Durham, Darlington and Teesside, said: “Just in terms of the focus of the integrated care partnership, the first is to stabilise sustained services that are vulnerable. “Breast diagnostic services are under pressure and are unsustainable because of workforce pressures, namely the recruitment of breast radiologists.
“What we’re aiming to do, as commissioners and providers in the NHS, is work together to so we can maintain local access as far as possible.”
He said the CCG would “engage” the public and relevant bodies in September before a formal consultation on what options would be taken forward. But he added that the main problem remained – there are simply not enough breast radiologists in the country.
“There isn’t a magic bullet,” he said.
Scrutiny support officer Caroline Breheny asked if the consultation on breast diagnosis services would be undertaken as an individual concern or as part of a wider consultation looking at a number of services.
“I guess at this point I couldn’t commit definitively to that either way,” said Mr Houghton.
Ms Breheny said the panel’s plan to involve the Health Secretary was dependent on whether the CCG could guarantee a specific consultation.
If it couldn’t, councillors may decide to continue with its referral to the Secretary of State. “It’s the time-scale as well,” she said adding that one of the options being suggested by the CCG was a previously suggested “hub and spoke” model in which services based at North Tees could be dispatched to the South Tees areas.
“However it has been acknowledged by the CCG that that was not going to be in place in the next five to ten years – that’s on record,” she said.
Mr Houghton said: “I think we need to acknowledge that, up to now, we haven’t done anything.
“We haven’t consulted, we haven’t engaged, we haven’t really done anything.
“What we’re saying is we need to get to a point that we’re done.”
Cllr Matthew Storey pressed the CCG representatives on why there remained a problem with attracting radiologists to the area.
Mr Blair said: “This situation hasn’t arisen off the back of finances.
“The finances are in place – we can afford the breast radiologists, they just don’t exist.”
Cllr Alma Hellaoui, Labour councillor for Newport, said: “Deal with this as a high priority because the people of Middlesbrough and further afield have really suffered under this system that has gone on for far too long.”
Breast cancer remains the most commonly occurring cancer in women on Teesside. According to the Office of National Statistics, the cancer incidence rate was 13.2% higher in the North-east compared with London in 2016. The ONS figures also revealed that in 2016, mortality from breast cancer was 34.1%.
This article originally appeared on Teesside Live
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