More women being sent for breast cancer tests following a major awareness campaign is stretching NHS services.
Health chiefs in Forth Valley have admitted there has been a “significant” increase in referrals since the Scottish Government initiative to encourage females to carry out vital checks.
The situation is replicated across the country as the campaign, featuring actress Elaine C. Smith, highlighted there are a range of warning signs of this type of cancer, not just breast lumps.
However, locally the pressure is compounded by a vacant oncology consultant post which NHS Forth Valley conceded it has struggled to fill. However, a cancer expert from a neighbouring health board has been helping to cover clinics, allowing patients to be seen.
The worrying situation was highlighted by one woman from the Falkirk area who, despite first visiting her GP on November 7, was told this week it could be into January before she would be seen by a specialist.
A delay by her GP in forwarding the referral saw it only received by the right staff at Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert nine days after her first visit.
Initially told she should hear about an appointment within two weeks, the anxious woman called her GP surgery on Monday where staff told her she would have to contact the hospital herself.
She said: “I was given the main switchboard number and was first put through to the eye department but after a few failed attempts, decided to e-mail. A reply said the first urgent appointment was not till January because clinics are held on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and would not be taking place during the Christmas and New Year holidays.
“I was also told that they were extra busy because of the Elaine C. Smith campaign and they were without a consultant.”
However, within hours of contacting the hospital direct the woman was offered an appointment within days.
She added: “I think I only have this because I pushed and feel for those who will be waiting and wondering when they will hear from the hospital and what if?”
A spokeswoman for NHS Forth Valley said: “While there has been a significant increase in referrals to the breast cancer service over the last few months, NHS Forth Valley is committed to ensuring patients are treated as quickly as possible.
“We have introduced additional clinics, including one-stop clinics where a number of tests can be carried out at the same time. A number of extra clinics have also been arranged in the run up to Christmas and clinics will continue to run during the festive period.
“We are actively working to recruit an additional consultant for the service to replace an existing vacancy and, in the meantime, we have put in place arrangements for a number of sessions to be covered by a consultant from NHS Lanarkshire.”
The breast cancer awareness campaign is part of a £30 million early detection programme launched by the Scottish Government, which will also focus on bowel and lung cancer.