Reshaping Breast Assessment Services

Closes 19 Jul 2019

Opened 25 Mar 2019

Overview

Currently in Northern Ireland, symptomatic breast assessment services (breast symptoms which may or may not be suggestive of cancer) are provided by all five Health and Social Care Trusts.  Screening breast assessment services, for women with a positive screening test, are provided by four Trusts; Belfast Trust provides the screening service for women resident in both the Belfast and South Eastern Trust areas.

The national standards relating to waiting times to be seen at breast assessment clinics state that:

  • Patients referred with signs or symptoms of suspected breast cancer (red flag referrals) should be seen within 14 days;
  • Patients referred with signs or symptoms not suggestive of cancer (routine referrals) should be seen within 9 weeks; and
  • Women who require follow up of a screening mammography (screening referrals) should be seen within 3 weeks.

Over recent years, there have been a number of growing pressures and challenges facing breast assessment services across Northern Ireland, which can compromise the ability to provide timely care, consistent with the above standards.

The consultation document reflects the work and recommendations of the Breast Assessment Project Board (“the Project Board”) which was established by the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) and Public Health Agency (PHA) in 2017 to consider future service model options in light of ongoing capacity constraints and projected increases in demand.

The consultation document includes four recommendations for service reconfiguration; these are:  

Recommendation 1: A regional Breast Assessment Network will be established by December 2019 to oversee implementation and ongoing delivery of the future model of Breast Assessment Services, to include all Trusts, commissioners and services working together to shape and support service provision for the population of Northern Ireland.

Recommendation 2: Breast assessment Services for the population of Northern Ireland will be provided in no more than three locations by December 2020.

Recommendation 3: The three breast assessment locations will comprise:

  • Altnagelvin Area Hospital;
  • Antrim Area Hospital; and
  • Greater Belfast (likely to be the Ulster Hospital subject to the development of appropriate patient pathways).

Recommendation 4: Patient referrals to Breast Assessment Services in Northern Ireland will be managed through a central booking system by March 2020.

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