Advising with empathy and experience

Woman with terminal cancer blames NHS delays


A woman with fast-growing, stage-four breast cancer says the NHS has let her down, with delays at every stage of her treatment.

Caroline Boulton, 56, had several appointments for a mammogram, which checks for early signs of cancer, cancelled because of Covid, in March and November 2020.

In late 2021, she found a small lump, went to her GP and was referred urgently to a specialist but says that this was when the delays began.

Ms Boulton who lives in Greater Manchester said: "They haven't moved quickly enough. It's been really, really slow. Between each appointment, each scan, there's been four-, five-, six-, seven-, eight-week waiting times and delays."

The referral letter came through "very quickly" but then she waited three weeks, instead of the recommended two, to see a consultant.

She said: "When I first found the lump, it was only pea-sized. By the time I got to see the consultant, it was the size of a tangerine."

She says that she was told that her cancer was growing quickly but it would be eight weeks before a mastectomy could be scheduled to remove her breast.

When she finally saw an oncologist seven months after finding the lump, was given another scan and received the results, the cancer had spread to her liver, where she had 30 lesions, and she was told that there was no longer any treatment they could offer.

She said: "I've now got stage-four cancer that I shouldn't have  and two years to live."

Two years had passed from the date of her first cancelled mammogram to finding out the devastating news.

Figures leaked to the Health Service Journal showed that 327,395 people are on England's cancer waiting list; nearly 40,000 have been waiting more than 62 days after a GP referral for suspected cancer; the number waiting more than 104 days, has doubled since June 2021, to more than 10,000.

During the pandemic, cancer screening, treatment and operations were cancelled to free up staff and hospital beds, creating long waits for care and causing patients huge anxiety.

NHS England says that the record numbers now coming forward with cancer symptoms means cancers are being caught earlier than before but it's creating enormous demand.

NHS England said: "We have written to local NHS services making clear that reducing cancer waits is a key priority, helping them redesign their care to meet the increased demand as well as investing billions in extra diagnostic and treatment capacity across the country."

But leading oncologist Prof Pat Price, from Imperial College London, says: "This is the worst cancer crisis of my lifetime. The waits for cancer treatment are the worst they've ever been and they're getting worse. We have to get on and address this crisis. This is an absolute disaster."