Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) is calling for greater transparency of elective surgery wait times in the public health system as new data reveals delays, often of more than a year, for breast reconstruction following a mastectomy. Women in private health care are spared the wait but have high out-of-pocket costs and both sectors are failing to provide adequate information at the right time for women to make an informed decision about breast reconstruction.
A recent survey of 3,350 women diagnosed with breast cancer reveals many women across Australia are waiting too long and paying too much for a breast reconstruction after a mastectomy. COVID-19 is making the issue worse with some women reporting that the pandemic had resulted in further delays to these surgeries.
Reducing the cost of reconstruction, reducing waiting times in public hospital, and improving the provision and type of information about the different types of procedures are key areas that women would like to see improved.
The findings show disparities in access and costs for breast reconstruction based on residential location, socio-economic position and between the public and private health systems.
“Women in the public health system are more likely to experience unacceptable delays to their breast reconstruction surgery compared to those going privately, with results showing 76 per cent in the public health system had to wait for the procedure and 27 per cent of these waited more than 12 months,” says Breast Cancer Network Australia’s Chief Executive Officer Kirsten Pilatti.
Of those using the private health system, more than 20 per cent of respondents are facing out-of-pocket costs of more than $10,000, this varies across states and territories.
In addition to the financial barriers, women in regional and rural areas have reduced access to quality local expertise meaning that clinicians are less likely to raise the option of breast reconstruction. Kirsten says these disparities must be addressed to ensure women know what is available to them and have access to timely, affordable, and equitable breast cancer treatment that meets their individual needs.
“Having a reconstruction after mastectomy is an individual choice. BCNA wants all women to be able to make an informed decision about what’s right for them. Those who choose to have a reconstruction should expect access to all options in order to make an informed decision, no matter who they are or where they live” says Kirsten.
Read the full report and recommendations on BCNA’s website here.