"Breast cancer investigations at University Hospital of North Durham"

About: University Hospital Of North Durham / General surgery

(as the patient),

I have been referred to this unit for urgent investigations into breast lumps on a number of occasions over the past ten years. Because of a chronic, non-malignant condition which tends to produce lumps, I am likely to have to keep going back to this unit, just to make sure that any new lumps are 'more of the same'.

Positive comments first: I have seen two consultant radiologists for the breast ultrasound here over the years, Dr Julie Cox, and a gentleman whose name I regret I've forgotten. Both have been courteous, considerate, and have taken the time to explain what they are doing and what sort of changes they can see in the breast tissue.

The surgeon has been okay, but has never really addressed my concerns about mammograms, fine needle aspiration etc. They did not seem able to tell me why a mammogram was necessary, even though they also said they were ineffective on a younger woman with dense breast tissue (which I knew already). I have asked questions based on published research I have read, and while they were not overtly dismissive of my concerns, it has been clear to me that they are not really used to dealing with informed and assertive patients. Also, I don't think they realise how intimidating it is for patients to have to discuss their concerns while supine and half naked!

I should say here that I strive always to be calm and polite in these situations. I achieve this most of the time! However, to make a general point - and NOT one specifically aimed at that consultant - I find doctors of any stripe still tend to behave towards a patient who asks questions as if the patient is being antagonistic. This sort of attitude should really have changed by now.

I do feel that some of the staff involved in this process, could do more to acknowledge the presence of one's companion and their role in supporting the patient during consultations. My husband has been ignored on most occasions - no greeting, even.

The physical set up of the consulting room(s) at the Durham breast clinic needs attention, though really it should have been thought through during the planning stage for this new-ish hospital. The room is very narrow, and once the couch is curtained off from the door to the waiting room, one's companion is also hidden from view and cannot see what is happening to you, or join the discussion, or intervene, if that should be necessary.

I regret to say that on each occasion that I have needed a follow-up appointment with one particular member of staff, I have felt that someone ought to intervene. The various nurses who have acted as chaperones during follow-ups seem to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to what was going on. I have been treated in the most condescending, even insulting, fashion when I have asked a question or attempted to discuss my situation (for instance, I've been told I have "faulty logic"); I have felt very uncomfortable when being physically examined, really sensing that I was being groped rather than examined. They have made inappropriate comments and jokes during the process that I found embarrassing. My husband, on the other side of the curtain, has felt unsure how to respond to the situation.

Another negative comment must be made about a radiographer who performed a mammogram on me, although I never learned their name. Their manner was shockingly offhand, and they did not even tell me they were taking me for a mammogram, rather than the ultrasound. I feel they used excessive compression on my breasts, and several cysts for which I'd been referred actually burst during the process, as the surgeon couldn't find them afterwards to drain the fluid. I experienced significant pain on each side for six weeks.

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