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Matthew Trainer, chief executive of Barking, Havering and Redbridge NHS University Trust (BHRUT), said there had been a rise in patients coming forward for checks across north-east London since the star died in September, aged 39, from breast cancer.
His trust, which runs Queen’s hospital in Romford and King George in Ilford, has laid on extra evening and weekend clinics to meet the demand.
It saw 450 patients at breast clinics in August, 575 in September and 768 in October. The weekly average rose from 138 to almost 200 a week in the three weeks following Ms Harding’s death — up more than 40 per cent.
This has led to an increase in the number of patients who then require surgery. The trust plans to recruit a new breast cancer nurse and may use private hospitals to prevent long waits.
Hospitals should assess breast cancer patients within 14 days of an “urgent” GP referral. Treatment should start within 62 days. BHRUT has surpassed the two-week target for the last 14 months. Mr Trainer said: “We have been dealing with a significant increase in breast cancer referrals.
“In September we had the sad death of Sarah Harding and that has encouraged more people to check themselves. Speaking to colleagues across north-east London, we have seen an increase in referrals, many of whom have breast cancer in the family.”
King’s College hospitals NHS Trust, which treats breast cancer patients in south-east London, has also reported more referrals from GPs after women detected changes or symptoms.
Cancer charities say celebrity diagnoses can encourage the public to come forward. Prostate cancer referrals and diagnoses went up in 2018 after Stephen Fry and TV presenter Bill Turnbull went public about their diagnoses.
Hospitals across London have been trying new ideas to cut the number of patients waiting for surgery after the pandemic. The Standard revealed last week almost a million are awaiting treatment in London.
But the “Scalpel Project” at BHRUT saw 1,000 patients in Saturday clinics in the summer, while the “Gastronaught” project cut delays for gastro-enterology patients.