According to a poll of 1,246 people who either underwent reconstruction surgery or were waiting for it, two in five women (40%) waiting for breast reconstruction during the Covid pandemic faced a delay of two years or more. The survey also found that 92% of women felt it was an important part of their recovery.
Charity Breast Cancer Now said some breast reconstruction services are still not operating at full capacity after temporarily pausing at the start of the pandemic. It said there was a 34% drop in breast reconstruction activity in England in 2021/22 compared with 2018/19.
Publishing its latest report, the charity called on NHS England to work to develop a plan to address the backlog of breast reconstruction services. The charity also said that on top of the delays, women face a “postcode lottery” of care, with some women offered certain types of reconstruction while others are denied the same operation.
One woman told the authors of the report she waited for three-and-a-half years for breast reconstruction surgery, while another said she “wants to move on with my life” but has no idea when her surgery will take place.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of the charity, said: “For women who choose breast reconstruction, it is a core component of their recovery – far from a solely aesthetic choice, this is the reconstruction of their body and indeed their identity after they have been unravelled by breast cancer treatment and surgery.
“We hear of patients affected by delays to reconstruction surgery and the significant emotional impact this has on them, including altered body confidence, loss of self-esteem and identity, anxiety and depression, and hindering their ability to move forward with their lives, knowing their treatment is incomplete.”
She said the charity is “deeply concerned” that their research has revealed that women are “too often being denied vital access to the type of breast reconstruction that is right for them and equally critically at the right time”. Barriers “must be removed” and access to reconstruction “must be timely, fair, supported and informed for all women who choose it”, she added.
Baroness Morgan said: “As the NHS works to recover from backlogs of surgery that built up during the pandemic, we must urgently address these failings and put breast reconstruction on a much sounder footing for the sake of women, both now and in the future.
“We call on NHSE to work in partnership with us, the Association of Breast Surgery (ABS) and the British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) to develop a practical plan for breast reconstruction services that addresses the backlog, removes barriers and ensures timely and fair access to reconstruction for all women who want it.”