‘Illegal’ cancer delays at Oslo hospital

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Women with breast lumps are waiting up to three months for an examination at Ullevål University Hospital in Oslo, despite laws guaranteeing patients a maximum wait of two weeks. The delays in treatment are “completely unacceptable,” claimed politicians and cancer organizations.

The highly visible helicopter pad at Ullevål University Hospital in Oslo, where illegal breast cancer waiting times are believed to affect around 90 women. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

More than 90 women in the capital with potentially malignant lumps are currently enduring illegally long waiting periods. Furthermore, around 130 women – some of whom have already been told they have cancer – are in the queue for MRI scans.

Cancer campaigners reacted angrily to newspaper Aftenposten’s front-page report on the delays Thursday. “Referrals from doctors to specialists should be assessed within 30 working days,” Ingrid Renolen, a lawyer with the Norwegian Cancer Society, told news agency NTB. Renolen also confirmed that “referrals where there is a suspicion of serious illness, like a breast lump, should be assessed within 14 working days.”

Brincmann Eben, a leading doctor at Oslo University Hospital who spoke to NTB, blamed the waiting times on a lack of doctors and a shortage of good equipment. The doctor also fears that waiting times will worsen after the summer, when large-scale cuts will be undertaken by the hospital board – the funding problems have been described as a “crisis” by some, and the hospital’s leading administrator resigned earlier in June because she would not go along with the cuts.

The leader of the hospital’s diagnosis and intervention clinic claimed that the law had not been broken, stating that “there isn’t formally a breach of deadline when the patient is referred to a scanning center and not to a specialist for breast cancer.”

A junior minister in the government’s health department and representative of the Labour Party, Robin Kåss – himself a doctor – told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he believes that patients will have to be sent to other hospitals if the problems at Ullevål continue.

The news comes nearly a month after cancer waiting times at all of Norway’s hospitals were released by the Department of Health, showing the gap between referrals and “first treatment” (such as chemotherapy, cell therapy or surgery) for lung, breast and colon cancer. The longest breast cancer waiting lists recorded then came at Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen and the UNN HF in Tromsø, both of whom showed a 39 day wait. The best times were found at Vestfold Hospital in Tønsberg and Ålesund Hopsital, which had 12 day waits. Oslo University Hospital at that time showed a 24-day waiting period, although the referral to “first treatment” gap is not subjected to the same legal requirement of 14 days that the referral to examination gap is.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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