Blackpool hospital chiefs struggling to clear a string of delays in one of its departments today apologised to distressed patients after their appointments were repeatedly cancelled.
Extra clinics have now been put on in Blackpool Victoria Hospital’s gynaecology department in a bid to tackle the backlog, which has been blamed on a surge of referrals and has seen some worried patients waiting months to be seen.
It comes as two patients, referred to the Vic after smear tests, told of their anger after their appointments were cancelled a total of nine times.
Specialists in the gynaecology department have sent six appointment letters to Susan Newton – five of them, after an initial appointment letter, apologising for having to cancel the previous appointment and rearranging to a later date.
Mrs Newton, of Rutland Avenue, Fleetwood, even turned to The Vic’s Patient Relations team who were able to bring an appointment, scheduled for August 4, forward to July 24.
But this week she was shocked to discover that appointment has once again been put back to September 3.
She had a smear test in May, which although came back clear, revealed a minor concern which needed treating by specialists.
It’s a situation echoed by Susan Walker, of Slinger Road, Cleveleys, whose appointment has been put back five times.
Her smear test in April revealed she had a prolapsed uterus, which was causing severe discomfort and urine infections.
Her appointment is scheduled for August 4, though she says she expects that to be delayed again.
The women both say when they contact the gynaecology department they are told it’s due to “cutbacks”, which are affecting “several other women”.
Hospital bosses today said there had been a surge in the number of referrals to the service and have now put on extra clinics to clear the backlog. They said there had been an increase in the number of fast-track referrals for the gynaecological service – up from 58 in June 2013 to 80 referrals last month.
This has had an effect on clinics because fast-track referrals must be seen within two weeks and have to take priority over routine referrals.
A spokesman said: “Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust would like to apologise for the distress cancelled appointments has had on patients. The issue has been caused by rising demand for gynaecological services which has caused capacity issues – there have been no reductions to consultant staffing.
“As an immediate measure we have put on extra evening consultant-led clinics to ensure we can deliver increased provision to meet the increased demand.
“We are sincerely sorry for any undue worry these patients may have suffered, but would like to assure patients that the capacity issue is being resolved.”
But Mrs Newton, 55, said: “How many other women is this happening to? I wouldn’t have been sent to see a gynaecologist if it wasn’t needed.
“I am angry they keep changing my appointment.
“Each week I dread that brown envelope coming through the letter box with the yellow letter inside.”
But it’s not just every week the women are having their appointments cancelled – Mrs Nelson, who works as a carer, received three letters in six days and Ms Walker, 63, received two letters in two days.
Each time an appointment is cancelled, a new one is made for different doctors or specialists. Fed up with the constant cancellations, Mrs Newton contacted the Vic’s Patient Relations team.
“I was happy when they were able to bring it forward for me,” she said.
“But even that wasn’t guaranteed, as four weeks later they pushed it back again. I phoned up the gynaecology department and told them I was sick of it, and they just said, ‘You’re not the only one’.”
The women know of each other’s appointment nightmare because they are related through marriage.
But they say hundreds of women could be in the same position.
Retired Ms Walker said: “We are just two people who happen to be related.
“We attended our routine smear tests at different doctors’ surgeries on different days.
“How many other people are having to wait four or five months just to see a gynaecologist?”
Jeanette Preston, who runs Pants Cancer, a charity which works to raise awareness of gynaecological and testicular cancers, said: “For a lot of people (a smear test) probably isn’t going to (flag up) a concern but for those it will medics need to move quickly.
“There is no excuse for delays. Government guidelines don’t allow for that either.
“Hospitals should have protocols in place and have those published so women can see what they aim to do and what they aim to achieve in a certain time.
“Women will undoubtedly suffer anguish and awful anxiety (waiting for appointments).”
A spokesman for the Blackpool Healthwatch watchdog said: “We have not been contacted by anyone yet regarding this issue, but would like to hear from any patients who have been affected, so we can look into the matter.”
Cancellation after cancellation...
SUSAN NEWTON’S appointment history:
Appointment made on May 19 for June 23
Cancelled on June 6 to July 17
Cancelled on June 9 to July 21
Cancelled on June 11 to August 4
Brought forward by Patient Liaison on June 17 to July 24
Cancelled July 10 to September 3
SUSAN WALKER’S appointment history:
Appointment made on May 23 for June 11
Cancelled on May 26 and made for June 30
Cancelled on May 30 and made for July 7
Cancelled on June 12 and made for July 25
Cancelled on June 13 and made for August 4