'I felt I was in a nightmare'
A young woman from Carmarthenshire says more needs to be done to help with early cancer diagnosis in west Wales after her dad died just 10 days after visiting A&E.
Mum-of-two Sara Mair Sauro lost her father Derrick Williams to advanced stage cancer after a late diagnosis in March, 2022.
It comes as more than a third of Wales' cancer cases are found when people arrive as hospital emergencies, like A&E, according to recent figures by Public Health Wales.
Speaking to S4C’s Y Byd ar Bedwar, Sara says she’s still waiting for answers surrounding her father’s death.
Sara said: “He went to the GP to find out exactly what was going on with him. What’s cruel is, he just went so quickly, I just want answers to understand. I don’t think the end result would have changed but you never know as he wasn’t given that opportunity.”
Mr Williams, from Pontyberem, was 62 when he died of advanced tumours which had spread to the liver.
In the lead up to his death, he contacted the GP several times from December 2021 complaining of symptoms of chest pain and weight loss, but it wasn’t until February 2022 that he was given a face to face appointment. Although he was provided an asthma pump, laxatives, and steroid medicine over the phone, he was not referred for tests until March after requests made by the family.
Following an abnormal blood test, Derrick was referred for an ultrasound scan, but before attending the appointment he made the journey to the A&E department of Glangwili Hospital after the pain became unbearable. He was diagnosed with stage four cancer 24 hours after arriving.
Sara said: “I didn’t plan to take him down to A&E but I had some sort of answers because I took him to A&E out of my own choice and his own choice, because he couldn’t go on anymore. I felt like I was in a nightmare. We didn’t have long, and he was trying to be positive saying ‘I’m going to fight this, I’m going to be here for you’. I can’t help but feel like I’ve let him down.”
Sara now has serious questions about the healthcare available in West Wales after also losing her mother, Janet Williams, to cancer under similar circumstances six years ago. Janet died from advanced pancreatic cancer just three months after a diagnosis.
She said: “I very much feel we are at the end of the M4 and the health care around here is unfortunately not the best. They need to look at why we are the last to receive what bigger hospitals have received years before. I don’t think we have the capacity, I don’t think we have the care. I feel like we are at the end of the line.”
Latest statistics show that Hywel Dda University Health Board had the worst cancer waiting times in all of Wales in April 2022.
48% of cancer patients in the health board started their cancer treatment within the 62-day-target set by the Welsh Government – compared to 68.2% at Betsi Cadwaladr. No single health board in Wales met the government’s target of 75%.
Speaking to Y Byd ar Bedwar, the Health Minister Eluned Morgan, said: “I recognise there’s a serious problem, that we’re not seeing people quick enough. We have targets that we are missing and that’s why we are pouring millions into this effort to get services back to where they should be but we are seeing more patients than we have ever seen before.
"We now have Rapid Diagnostic Centres in every health board in Wales. The one in Cardiff will be coming online later this year and that will speed up the process and hopefully get people diagnosed much quicker. We want to see a consistent approach across the whole of Wales. It is difficult because we’ve seen a wave of Covid hitting our oncologists - hitting the people who are actually delivering this service.”
What are Rapid Diagnosis Centres?
Rapid Diagnosis Centres are used to help with early cancer detection. The aim is to reduce the time from presentation of symptoms at the GP to receiving a diagnosis, especially with vague symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, fatigue or abdominal pain.
Charity Macmillan Cymru Wales say cancer services are in crisis and things need to improve. "It is a perfect storm. We've got people waiting too long coming into the system and we've got an aging, tired workforce. Is it going to get worse than this? I don't know." says Richard Pugh, Head of Partnerships for Macmillan in Wales. He added; "There's a worrying trend where you live in Wales and the old post code lottery comes to light. It's worrying, everyone should have equal access, and equal treatment wherever they live in Wales."In response to Sara’s story, Mandy Rayani, Director of Nursing, Quality and Patient Experience at Hywel Dda UHB, said: “We would like to offer our deepest condolences to the family of Mr Williams. While we are unable to comment on individual patient cases, we take all complaints very seriously and are in the process of responding to the issues that have been raised.”
The health board has encouraged anyone with a concern or complaint to contact their Patient Advice and Liaison Service.
You can see more on this story on Y Byd ar Bedwar at 20:00 on Monday 11 July on S4C. English subtitles are available.