"Not enough support when being checked for breast cancer"

About: Borders General Hospital / General Medicine Borders General Hospital / Medical Oncology

(as the patient),

I have had a sore breast for over 2 months now. Being responsible about my health, I went to the doctors where I was examined, and no obvious sign of lumps was present, so asked to come back again in three weeks, which I did. Upon continued pain and general soreness in my left breast, the doctor referred me to have a check up at BGH.

I have had soreness before and 10 years ago was referred to the Lynda McCartney Centre (LMC) in Liverpool Royal Hospital for check up there. I have to say the difference was like night and day.

It was a speedy referral, to which I was grateful. You hear all kinds of worrying news stories about breast cancer, and so your anxiety levels are already high by the time you get to the hospital.

At LMC you walk into a dedicated centre for Breast Cancer. At BGH you are sent to an outpatients clinic.

Already my anxiety was up, but when I went into the waiting room, and realised I was surrounded by lots of, generally, men and older people and I felt more anxious. I wanted to go home immediately, but needed to get this pain checked out. I was sent to a room where I was asked to undress and put a robe on, behind a curtain and left for what felt like an eternity. Then a gentleman came into the room, took a very brief history, and examined me. I wanted to die. In LMC you feel safe, because everyone you go to are women, and I know men can get breast cancer too, but I felt safe in that it was a dedicated centre with young women consultants, no men in sight, no men examining you. Is this just me?

The consultant was nothing but professional, if not somewhat abrupt, telling me there would be nothing to worry about if it was just pain and asked if I had heard of Oil of Evening Primrose?

Of course I have, it's a face cream isn't it? I felt stupid having troubled him now and the feeling that I would definitely never return here, pain or no pain, and if ever I felt I had cancer again, I'd be asked to referred to another hospital as I never wanted to experience this level of anxiety that was unacknowledged, and then almost made to feel stupid that I had bothered them.

Surely I should have known I had to take a herbal remedy for 4 months before bothering them. I'm sure this is not the message the consultant had intended to get across, but I felt awkward, that I'd inconvenienced them, and that this could be a positive, that it had ruled out the anxiety in my mind. And for every 10 people that go through the same as me with pain and anxiety, maybe one of them you could save their life by early diagnosis of breast cancer.

I had to then dress and go back out with all the other older patients both male and female and wait to be called to the mammogram where I had to undress and robe up again, and again, the radiologist was nothing but professional. I commented how this whole experience was not pleasant, she thought I meant the mammogram but I was referring to being there in general, and the vulnerability I felt being amongst the general public, the anxiety around being examined by male consultants and that they did nothing to put my mind at ease. No I have no family history but I know people that have died with breast cancer also with no family history.

The mammogram completed, I was asked to wait again in the general area, and then someone came to me and asked me to go and get a coffee as there was a technical problem for 15 minutes! What - does that not mean alarm bells are ringing? Does that mean they have bad news and are looking at it again as to make sure? My anxiety was through the roof. I said I'd prefer to wait and so they sent me 20 yards to another waiting room, which seemed pointless to me, but eventually I was called back and I returned to the consultant who told me I was all clear.

It was the worse experience I've ever had largely caused by my own anxiety levels, and the hospital doing nothing to help me manage my anxiety levels whilst being checked out. I won't return to BGH with any form or breast pain in the future, I will ask to be referred to another hospital nearby, after having researched patient reviews at my nearby options in future before I visit my GP. I won't ever be putting myself through that experience again, and I'd advise anyone who has breast pain, and has the option, to go elsewhere based on my experience.

I was naive to think everywhere was like LMC, or had dedicated clinics to handling women where were thinking they had breast cancer. I was hoping that men with testicular cancer may have similar outreach and provision to allay their embarrassment and fears too. Not so. I have only my own naivety and expectations that I can manage in the future. If you have breast pain, get it checked out. I didn't get this message, nor did I feel that I had done the right thing by 'bothering' them with this pain. I felt I left with a flea in my ear and told to go and buy herbal remedies to sort it out. No other information, advice, reinforcement of I did the right thing.

Hope this can change. If I had been 25 and this experience had happened to me, I would have been mortified.

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Response from Stephen Bermingham, NHS Borders

Dear ‘fissshface’

I am sorry that you are so disappointed with the care and treatment you received at the Borders General Hospital. Your feedback has been passed onto the relevant staff so they can reflect on your experience. As a small general hospital we are unable to provide the specialist breast screening services of the Linda McCartney Centre, however, our staff should always treat patients with dignity and respect and I am sorry if this was not your experience. If you would like us to look into your case in more detail, or wish to provide feedback in person please contact either Susan Cowe our Feedback and Complaints Officer on 01896 826719 or myself on 01896 826824.

Best wishes,

Judith Smith - Nurse Consultant Cancer

  • {{helpful}} {{helpful == 1 ? "person thinks" : "people think"}} this response is helpful

Update posted by fissshface (the patient)

Dear Judith

I wasn't expecting levels of care as experienced by LMC 10 years ago, but to my mind the following points should be taken forward for you as staff to consider:

How would I feel as a patient entering BGH and how can you manage my anxiety, make an awful expectation more manageable and reduce the stress levels already existing so that an awful expectation is changed into a positive experience when being checked out for essentially the big C.

How would I feel as a 18 year old, 25 year old and 40 year old compared to a 50 year old and so on.

Are you wanting to actively encourage people to be checked out and if so how can we promote that message to our patients that come here.

Any more advice from the consultants other than 'take evening primrose' - such as an information as to what might be causing the pain, other than cancer that was ruled out in my case. A 'oh if it's pain it won't be cancer' statement just didn't cut it enough, because the pain still lingers and I'm left feeling maybe they missed something and should I get a referral to a more 'upbeat' hospital such as the Royal at Edinburgh or St Johns in Livingston, although aware I don't want to waste time and resource. I felt like I had wasted both my time and your time by coming.

I spoke to someone who had a similar issue 3 years ago and went through the same process as me, and had the same opinion as me of my treatment. She'd had the fortune to be told what to expect from BGH - male consultants and no privacy or care to manage your anxiety - from one of her friends who had had similar experience, so at least her expectations were managed.

I'm giving feedback not because I'm upset or anything. I'm giving feedback in the hope that it will help you review your service levels around patient anxiety and patient information and patient handling. In the hope that it will hopefully actively encourage people to get checked out where they experience breast pain. I hope that for every 10 people that 'waste your time' there might be one that saves a life. I want the message to go out there to get checked out and get checked out at BGH. I'd already had three examinations by my 'thankfully' female GP who agreed there might be an issue. I'm no wiser, still have pain and know that for sure I won't go back to BGH and won't encourage anyone to go to BGH but to seek an alternative breast screening facility. Until I know there's significant improvement. It doesn't need to cost money, just a bit more thought perhaps, and perhaps a more empathic approach. Maybe there isn't a problem in the Borders that needs addressing and you are doing enough with the service you provide already. If so, I can only salute you, I love the NHS and love all that it does, but I also care too that perhaps people, particularly young people, might be put off by the way it's handled at the moment. Wish you all the best. x