Women facing ‘stark differences’ in breast cancer care across England

Women face “unacceptable differences” in breast cancer care across England, a new report has concluded.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Breast Cancer said women face a postcode lottery in the care they receive across the country.

Some women are being diagnosed at an earlier stage of their breast cancer than others, some offered life-saving drugs while others are not, and some women receive the care of specialist nurses while others have no such support, the group of MPs found.

For instance, depending on where they live in England, some women are more than twice as likely to die from breast cancer under the age of 75.

And just 62% of breast cancers are being detected early in some areas, compared with 88% in top-performing areas.

Meanwhile, in some areas just over half of women take up invitations for screening compared with four in five women in other parts of the country.

The APPG report states that there are “stark differences” in the availability of services which can even occur among women living on opposite sides of the same town.

The authors highlighted concerns over the breast cancer workforce, particularly within diagnostics and nursing.

MPs also raised concerns that there is confusion over who should be funding which services and a lack of accountability for the delivery of services.

The group said there is also no formal mechanism for good practice to be replicated more widely.

In a joint statement, MPs Thangam Debonnaire, Craig Tracey and Dr Philippa Whitford, who co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Breast Cancer, said: “Our inquiry has uncovered a concerning postcode lottery in screening uptake, early diagnosis and access to breast cancer services across England.

“This variation in NHS services can have a devastating impact on patients’ lives and must be addressed.

“In particular, the demographic time bomb facing the breast cancer workforce poses a worrying threat to the significant progress made in recent decades.

“We now urgently need to bring the worst performing areas in line with the best. While such inequalities exist, we cannot hope to meet the Government’s ambition of world-class outcomes for all NHS cancer patients.

“We urgently call on NHS England and Public Health England to intervene.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at the charity Breast Cancer Now, added: “While overall, more women are surviving the disease than ever before, this crucial report highlights geographical variation in NHS breast cancer services on a worrying scale.

“All women with breast cancer deserve the best possible chance of surviving and living well, no matter where they live, their age or the colour of their skin.

“This alarming report shows many women are missing out on the best breast cancer care this country has to offer, and this is totally unacceptable.”

An NHS England spokesman said: “Cancer survival rates have never been higher with more than 7,000 people now surviving after successful NHS treatment compared to three years ago and we’re already addressing the issues raised by this report.

“Latest figures show an increase in the number of women being screened and a new joint NHS England and PHE service will provide local areas with key data to help improve consistency of services for patients across the country.”

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