‘I’m worried about my mental health after cancer treatment relocated’

A breast cancer patient has voiced their concern after NHS Tayside services were relocated due to staffing issues.

Play icon Getty Images

A breast cancer patient has voiced concerns for their mental health after NHS Tayside said it wouldn’t be able to offer radiotherapy services to patients in the area.

Last week the health board said it had been struggling to replace its current breast cancer oncologist who is due to retire, despite “extensive recruitment efforts”.

Patients needing radiotherapy treatment will now have to travel to Aberdeen, Glasgow or Edinburgh. 

The health board says this will only affect seven or eight patients a week and they’ll organise transport and accommodation.

However one patient, who wished to remain anonymous, told STV News they’ve been given very little information about where they’ll get their treatment.

“To put it this way I’m not happy,” they said. 

“It’s quite hard because I’m starting to struggle now and I think I’ve been through enough, because most of my appointments have been through in Perth, they’ve not been here in Dundee or in the Tayside area.

“And now I’m getting shipped away again, with no family support. It’s the unknown, because I don’t know how I’m going to feel having this treatment or if family can visit and stay over.

“I was born and bred in Dundee. I don’t know Aberdeen, I don’t know my way about.

“And if you’ve got to sit in a hotel room after your treatment or for a full day, that’s not good for your mental health.

“My mental health is suffering now, and I’m worried how it’s going to be later on.”

Charities have also raised concerns about the situation breast cancer patients are facing.

Mia Rosenblatt from Breast Cancer Now said: “It’s really worrying to hear NHS Tayside are currently not able to deliver radiotherapy to breast cancer patients at Ninewells Hospital as a result of workforce shortages.

“We’re acutely aware of the struggles patients can face travelling further afield for treatment, owing to the side effects of radiotherapy, which often follows chemotherapy and can cause severe tiredness.

“We welcome accommodation and travel being arranged for patients, but this approach won’t suit everyone’s needs, particularly as radiotherapy can take place over several weeks.

“NHS Tayside are at the mercy of a much wider workforce issue which urgently needs addressing. A 2020 Scotland workforce census of clinical oncologists shows increasing staff shortages, and an estimated 18% of consultant clinical oncologists are forecast to retire in Scotland by 2025.

“A comprehensive workforce plan is urgently needed that both fully addresses the problem and provides necessary investment in the NHS cancer workforce so that it’s there for people affected by breast cancer who depend on it, both now and in the future.”

Earlier this week, Labour MSP Michael Marra told Holyrood there had been two further resignations within NHS Tayside’s oncology department.

He said the issue raised concerns that the health board will suffer serious shortfalls in oncology consultant cover, especially for breast cancer patients.

Health secretary Humza Yousaf said NHS Tayside had taken action to resolve the issue and carried out three rounds of recruitment last year, with one successful candidate.

The health board is also speaking with agencies to resolve the issue, according to Yousaf.

He added the issue recruiting breast cancer specialists wasn’t unique to Tayside.

In a statement, NHS Tayside said: “We previously advised that the clinical oncologist who delivers the specialist radiotherapy service in Tayside is retiring and, as yet, we have been unable to recruit another specialist in Tayside. 

“We only have one of these specialist roles in Tayside for breast cancer and, since there is a shortage of these doctors across the country, we are finding it hard to recruit, despite the best efforts of our teams.

“Therefore, a mutual aid arrangement with the three specialist cancer centres in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow was agreed and breast cancer patients who require radiotherapy will be treated at one of the other centres in Scotland.

“I would like to reassure Tayside patients that they will receive appropriate and timely radiotherapy.

“The first group of patients have been appointed; some have already been seen in Grampian, and the remainder of that first group will have appointments in Glasgow from this weekend and Edinburgh from Monday.

“All patients have a dedicated, specialist breast nurse in Tayside as a direct link throughout their whole journey to provide continuity of care and make sure patients are fully supported by the local team through all stages of their treatment.”

The health board has confirmed family or a carer will also be given travel and accommodation to help patients, and a new patient information pack is being reviewed.

NHS Tayside medical director, Professor Peter Stonebridge, added: “We will continue to work with the Scottish Government to restore the radiotherapy part of the patient pathway in Tayside as soon as is practicable.

“We remain committed to delivering services locally, as long as it is safe for patients and, in this case, that requires a suitable specialist medical workforce.

“The board has also given an absolute commitment to rebuilding the breast oncology service within Tayside and to that end we are in ongoing discussions with the local oncology team, the medical school at the University of Dundee and Scottish Government to look at all the available options open to us.”