LONDON (Reuters), Jul 13 - An increasing number of women with breast cancer are waiting too long to see a specialist doctor because of problems caused by a government target, research published on Friday said.
Under NHS guidelines introduced in 1999, all patients with suspected breast cancer should be seen by an expert within two weeks of being referred by a general practitioner (GP) in a bid to cut long waiting lists and delays in treatment.
However, a team of leading doctors said they had found that an "alarming" number of women, who were classified as "routine" cases, had breast cancer and were waiting longer to see a specialist.
The research, the first assessment of the target's long-term impact, examined referrals to the Frenchay Breast Care Centre in Bristol between 1999 and 2005.
During this time there were almost 25,000 referrals. The proportion of "urgent" patients found with cancer and seen within two weeks dropped from 12.8% to 7.7%.
However, the number of women found with cancer in the "routine" group rose from 2.5% to 5.3%.
"The system is failing patients and a change is urgently needed," the research concludes.
The study's head Dr. Shelley Potter said the findings were "alarming" and that the routine patients were suffering to ensure that urgent patients were seen within two weeks.
"These patients are also potentially disadvantaged by longer clinic waits and delays in diagnosis as waiting times for routine referrals have increased," she said.
The Department of Health said ministers were examining the issue.
"In 2005, the government made a manifesto commitment to go further on cancer waits and we are considering proposals to do this as part of the Cancer Reform Strategy due to be published at the end of this year," a spokesman told the BBC.
Last Updated: 2007-07-13 11:45:31 -0400 (Reuters Health)
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