Woman uses life savings to fund cancer surgery due to NHS wait times

Mags McCaul, 50, shared her story as research reveals four in ten women in Scotland are waiting more than three months for diagnosis.

Woman uses life savings to fund ovarian cancer surgery due to NHS waiting times Target Ovarian Cancer

A woman with stage three ovarian cancer has shared how she used her life savings to get private treatment in England after facing a 12-week wait on the Scottish NHS.

Mags McCaul, spoke out as a new report reveals four in ten women in Scotland are waiting more than three months for a diagnosis.

The North Lanarkshire woman, was diagnosed last August with stage 3C high-grade ovarian cancer after experiencing bloating and abdominal pain.

The 50-year-old completed four sessions of chemotherapy before being deemed suitable for surgery.

However, she then faced 12 weeks of waiting for procedure.

As a result she decided the use life-saving to fly to England for private surgery which was unavailable in Scotland.

Ms McCaul has now been told, after further chemotherapy, that there is no evidence of the disease, however she continues to live with the anxiety that the condition could return.

She is now calling for improvements to care for Ovarian Cancer, which affects around 600 women in Scotland each year, and is backing calls from Target Ovarian Cancer for urgent action to fix the shortcomings.

She said: “Although my last scan in February shows no evidence of disease, I know it’s not over yet and I am far from OK.”

She added: “There are a number of things that the Scottish Government need to address when it comes to ovarian cancer.

“Access to surgery is an unacceptable issue that affects the overall landscape of care that’s being provided in Scotland. This needs to change. If my husband and I hadn’t used our life-savings, I would have only just had my surgery. It’s a scary thought.

“Another is support for women who have ovarian cancer. Women need to have access to support and a choice to take it or leave it and I think it would be great if there was an automated referral process from the GP or secondary care team. It can be hard to find your voice and ask for support, I was well enough to find it but not everyone is.”

A new report from Target Ovarian Cancer has revealed the scale of waiting periods facing those with the condition.

In its latest state-of-the-nation report ‘Pathfinder Scotland: Faster, further, and fairer’ it is revealed that a quarter of women reported visiting their GP three or more times before being referred for tests.

Research also found that 41% reported waiting more than three months from their first appointment with their GP to receiving their diagnosis.

Nearly half of women also said they were never asked about the impact of treatment on their mental health.

The report also demonstrates a geographical variation in women accessing lifesaving surgery.

The charity’s review findings are set to be presented to MSPs at Holyrood next week where Ms McCaul will share her story.

Target Ovarian Cancer say more women would survive the condition if diagnosis was faster and access to treatment was fairer.

The charity is calling for a national awareness campaign of symptoms to look out for as well as more training and support for GPs.

Annwen Jones OBE, chief executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “It is just not acceptable that so many women wait so long for a correct diagnosis, leading to delays in treatment.

“Whilst we recognise that Scotland is leading the way with the shortest diagnostic pathway, the delays to women being referred for tests is staggering. We must do better and act faster to ensure women are getting the earliest possible diagnosis and earliest access to treatment, no matter where they live.

“It’s very concerning too to hear from women that they aren’t asked about the impact their diagnosis has on their mental health.

“We know how devastating this disease is and it is crucial they are signposted to the support that is needed to deal with the many challenges that come with an ovarian cancer diagnosis. This needs to be provided at the right time and in the right place. This need being unmet is also unacceptable.

“Ovarian cancer must become a health priority for progress to be made. For this to happen investment in awareness campaigns, diagnosis, and access to treatment, especially surgery and support is needed.”

Target Ovarian Cancer targets what’s important to stop ovarian cancer devastating lives. To find out more about the charity or access its support line visit the website. 

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Cancer remains a priority in the NHS and we continue to work closely with NHS boards to maximise capacity and ensure people receive their care and treatment as safely and quickly as possible.

“Latest published data (Q4 2022) shows that the median wait for ovarian cancer patients in Scotland is 51 days from urgent suspicion of cancer referral to first treatment.

“We invested £10m to support boards in improving cancer waiting times in 2022/23 and will shortly publish our new 10-year cancer strategy. This will take a comprehensive approach to improving patient pathways, from prevention and diagnosis through to treatment and post-treatment care. The strategy aims to improve cancer survival and provide excellent, equitably accessible, care across Scotland.”

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