In Bristol, the hospital is facing criticism for having some of the most extended gynaecological cancer waiting times in the country. Recent NHS data reveals that, in June, only 2% of such patients received a consultation at Southmead Hospital within the government’s recommended two-week target period.
Caroline White, a 66-year-old resident of Filton, was taken aback when she learned that she would have to endure a waiting period of at least six weeks after her GP suspected she might have cervical cancer.
Her journey began on September 27th when she visited her GP due to post-menopausal bleeding. Following an internal examination, her GP quickly referred her to Southmead Hospital for a biopsy, suspecting cancer.
Feeling anxious and “desperate,” Ms. White soon discovered that she faced a six-week wait for her appointment. “I am very worried and stressed by it,” she said. I’d say I only have 10% confidence it will actually happen within six weeks.
According to NHS data, Southmead Hospital’s gynaecological cancer waiting times have consistently fallen short of the target, with only 48% of cases meeting the two-week goal. Over the past year to July, less than half of the women were seen within the recommended timeframe, with hospitals in the western region performing better.
Southmead Hospital’s figures saw a significant drop in March, June, and July. However, the hospital couldn’t determine if the increased gynaecological cancer waiting times were related to recent strikes. In July, Southmead Hospital was significantly worse than other hospitals in the region, seeing only 4% of women within the two-week timeframe.
Comparatively, Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust achieved a 96% on-time rate, University Hospitals Bristol and Weston scored 79%, Somerset achieved 51%, and the Great Western Hospital in Swindon had a 50% success rate.
Steve Curry, chief operations officer at North Bristol NHS Trust, acknowledged the issue, saying, “We’ve seen a significant increase in two-week wait referrals for suspected gynaecological cancer. While we’ve made some progress, we believe we have more to do and want to apologise to anyone waiting longer than we would like.”
The trust has been making efforts to improve performance and address the faster diagnosis standard. New staff roles and additional clinical capacity have been added to ensure rapid diagnosis and swift communication of results.
The North Bristol NHS Trust reported a 24% increase in two-week wait referrals for suspected gynaecological cancer from January to June 2022, compared to the same period in 2023. The hospital has recently introduced five additional clinics, offering 51 more weekly appointments for its gynaecology service.
South Wiltshire-based University Hospitals Dorset had an even worse figure in July, at 2%. Mark Mould, chief operating officer for University Hospitals Dorset, assured that more appointments were being made available to address the situation.
Stephen Dobbs, president of the British Gynaecological Cancer Society, expressed concerns over the figures, noting that this trend is not unique to Bristol. He explained, “In the last 18 months, there’s been a steady climb in gynaecological cancer waiting times for people to be referred for two-week diagnostic waits.
He cited several factors contributing to the delays, including a surge in referrals, decreased staff capacity in primary and secondary care, and challenges in accessing diagnostics for confirming or ruling out cancer.