The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) and Public Health Agency (PHA) are currently undertaking a review of Northern Ireland’s breast assessment services to help ensure that people referred to the service are seen and assessed as quickly as possible.
Service users are normally referred to breast assessment services either by their GP or as a result of a breast screening recall appointment. For patients with breast symptoms there are dedicated assessment clinics in all five Health and Social Care Trusts across Northern Ireland. Women referred from breast screening are seen in separate screening assessment clinics, in four locations across Northern Ireland.
Breast assessment services have been encountering ongoing challenges as a result of increasing numbers of referrals and ongoing workforce shortages within radiology. There are currently difficulties in meeting waiting time standards for assessing patients referred to a clinic with symptoms and for those attending breast screening recall clinics. There is widespread agreement that the current model is not sustainable and could be redesigned to ensure a more equitable and timely service.
A Project Board has been established to consider options for the future configuration of the service, including the potential to consolidate services on fewer sites. The Project Board, which includes service user representation, is expected to report in the autumn, after which public consultation is likely to be required.
The HSCB and PHA have been engaging with a range of individuals and organisations in order to hear their views. This will help shape the consultation proposals for service reconfiguration. It will also help shape the criteria which will be used to assess the various options.
In an effort to gain the views of those who have used the service each of the five Health and Social Care Trusts, on behalf of the HSCB and PHA, sent surveys to a sample of service users who had attended an assessment clinic during March and April 2017. In addition, patient focus groups were held in each Trust area during the month of August. Initial conversations have also been held with key voluntary organisations and wider public engagement took place during July and August through public meetings organised by the five Local Commissioning Groups of the HSCB.
The findings from the various engagement activities will be summarised during the autumn. The options for the future configuration of the service will be presented to the Department of Health for consideration. It is envisaged that a formal public consultation will then commence. During this time, there will be further engagement with a wide range of stakeholders.