Column: Marking twenty years of life-saving care

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Last week, I was privileged to attend a birthday celebration for a hospital-based health service that has provided a magnificent 20 years of life-saving care for thousands of Doncaster women.

In 1997, the pioneering Jasmine Centre opened in the Women’s Hospital at Doncaster Royal Infirmary, becoming one of the UK’s first specialist breast units.

It was unique at the time because, instead of having just general surgery staff - which had been the case up to then - it was staffed with a newly developed dedicated group of specialist surgeons, doctors, nurses and radiologists and a separate clinic suite.

Since then, the Jasmine Centre has touched the lives of many Doncaster families. It provides a full range of services for managing breast problems, including the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, as well as non-life-threatening conditions. Treatments are agreed by a group of experts rather than one doctor, as was the case before 1997.

It has led the way in providing open access reviews, with patients being able to contact staff direct without having to see their GP first.

Back in the late 1990s, patients with suspected breast cancer, who were referred to Doncaster Royal Infirmary, faced having to go to three outpatient appointments to have the tests they needed. It could take up to eight weeks to find out if they had breast cancer or not.

But now they see a Jasmine Centre consultant within two weeks of being referred by their GP, with all the necessary follow-up tests being quickly completed in two visits over a three-day period. This fast-track service involves a clinical examination; imaging – such as ultrasound or a mammogram; and pathology specimens. Crucially, the results are available in three days.

The unit is one of the largest in the region, serving over 500,000 women in South Yorkshire and North Nottinghamshire, treating over 450 breast cancers each year.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer to affect women in the UK with over 50,000 new cases diagnosed annually. Rates have been rising sharply for the past 30 years but despite this, deaths have been falling steadily thanks to the impact of modern units like the Jasmine Centre.

Forty years ago, 50 per cent of people with breast cancer died within five years of being diagnosed, but medical advances have brought that down to 20 per cent.

Early identification has also played a big part and, with this being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s timely to remind all local women to attend their breast screening appointments. They take place at the Cameo Centre, Chequer Road, and also at Bassetlaw Hospital.

You should receive your first invite to screening after you are 49 and before you are 53. This will continue every three years until you are 70. Once over 70 you can still be checked by phoning the screening unit on 01302 644966.