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Waiting time target not met for UK cancer patients

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Britain’s targets for reducing waiting times for breast cancer patients have not brought any lasting improvement in services, researchers reported on Tuesday.

In April 1999, the government announced plans to ensure that a specialist sees every woman with suspected breast cancer within two weeks of a referral by her family doctor. A study by researchers at the Thames Cancer Registry, King’s College London, showed that the number of women meeting the target rose from 66 to 75 percent by December 2000, but many patients had to wait more than five weeks for cancer treatments such as radiotherapy. “Our study suggests that the government’s two-week target has changed little for women undergoing breast cancer treatment,” said research team head Dr. David Robinson. The study, reported in the British Journal of Cancer, examined waiting times in 19 hospitals in southeast England and analyzed records of 5,750 women referred by their family doctor for treatment. “The problem with arbitrary targets is that rather than bringing about a genuine and lasting improvement in services, they just seem to push patients from one queue to another,” Dr. Robinson added. In a separate report in the journal, Dr. Jasmina Mikeljevic of St. James’ Hospital in Leeds said cancer patients treated by a specialist breast surgeon, rather than a general surgeon, have better five-year survival rates and are more likely to get additional treatment such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Dr. Mikeljevic studied survival rates of 11,000 women patients who had surgery for breast cancer between 1989 and 1994. Patients whose surgeons had operated on more than 50 patients in a year had a 68% 5-year survival rate, compared to 60% for patients whose surgeons performed fewer operations annually. “It is statistically significant,” Dr. Mikeljevic said in an interview. She believes the results of the study reinforce the importance of specialist care by multidisciplinary teams. Since 1996 the Department of Health has recommended that all women be treated by specialist breast cancer teams. “Since the recommendations almost all (health) trusts within the region and throughout the country have multidisciplinary teams where they plan the treatment of all patients,” Dr. Mikeljevic added.(Source: Br J Cancer 2003: Reuters Health: Patricia Reaney: July 29, 2003: Oncolink)

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Posted On: 30 July, 2003
Modified On: 3 December, 2013


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