Dr Mamatha Reddy, Consultant Radiologist and Care Group Lead Breast Imaging

Tell us a bit about the work of the Rose Centre team? 

The Rose Centre is a purpose built breast services unit and hosts the South West London National Breast Screening Programme. We perform up to 52,000 mammograms a year for the women of SW London with the goal of early identification of breast cancer.

We are also a very busy symptomatic breast unit. Patients are referred to our breast surgeons from their GPs for investigation if they have found a lump or have any other worrying breast  symptoms.

The team is made up of a wide range of staff, including radiologists, consultant and advanced practitioners, radiographers and radiography technical officers, breast surgeons, breast cancer nurses, HCAs and oncologists.

We are supported by an amazing administration team and of course we could not do our job without our porters, cleaners, and all the other staff involved in maintaining a busy hospital service.

There is a real community feel in the centre and we are a very happy and supportive unit.

How has Covid-19 affected your patients?

At the start of the pandemic, we were concerned that patients, particularly our screening women, who are not unwell, and our older patients, would be at risk. So like all screening centres, we decided to temporarily pause breast screening at the end of March.

We have however continued to work throughout the Covid situation and our TWR – urgent breast cancer clinics have remained open. Our focus was to continue working safely and ensure that the women who needed treatment urgently could visit us in order to have the necessary investigations.

We kept in close contact with GPs to reassure them we were still available for patients if they needed testing, and that measures were in place to keep them safe.

We continued our service for women at high risk of breast cancer and were one of the first units to re-open screening to women at moderate risk.

We are now looking to see how we can resume standard breast screening safely. This will be very challenging logistically, but we are very keen to resume work for the women of SW London.

What are some of the big challenges you’ve faced? 

At the beginning we were very concerned about temporarily stopping general breast screening– it’s not in our nature to withdraw a service, especially when it is clinically proven to save lives. It was also worrying that women were reluctant to consult their GPs with breast lumps and our cancer clinics were much quieter than usual. However we had to put the safety of patients first and we are all relieved that we’ve been able to re-open so quickly.

Almost all of our breast care nurses were redeployed to work as liaison nurses for ITU as they have unique skills involving breaking bad news and communication. They offered to be the point of contact for relatives, which relieved ITU staff of some of this burden and provided them with some much needed support. Some of our radiographers and some administrative staff were also redeployed to main radiology to help with the workload generated by the Covid crisis.

These changes to the team were quite disruptive, but throughout we have all come to work every day to do the best we can. We are not back to our full complement just yet and continue to adapt to the new normal.

How are you and the team coping? 

The team has really risen to the challenge of managing the new ways of working and I’m so proud of every single one of them. Even those who are shielding and working from home are keen to volunteer and be flexible in picking up other work in order to contribute.

Our way of working in the Rose Centre has always been collaborative and it’s really been heartening to see how we have worked together to adapt to altering circumstances. We have changed ways of seeing patients, from surgeons holding virtual clinics, to radiologists altering daily rotas and job plans in order to accommodate spacing patients across the week and evaluating them safely.

We have seen many instances of volunteering and helping in the community, over and above contractual duties through this time. For example, one of our nurses delivered shopping to a relative whose loved one was very ill on ITU and had no one to help.

Our superintendent radiographers personally delivered letters for appointments to women who needed to attend urgently, when postal services were slow at the height of the crisis.

Staff baked endless rounds of cakes to boost morale for the Unit, and hidden sewing skills have been uncovered by talented staff making scrubs and masks to raise money for the NHS.

We have watched in total admiration and awe at how our colleagues in ITU and the acute medical wards etc. have stepped up to the challenge and managed,  and clapped loud and long every Thursday evening to congratulate all the staff at St George’s and the whole NHS.

In the meantime in the background, we in the Rose Centre have quietly tried to continue to support our patients and staff as best we can. With pragmatism and a good dose of humour we have tried to keep our screening service afloat, and to support with skill and compassion many of our patients through the difficult cancer journeys that they have had to embark on and continue to struggle with, during this unprecedented time.

We are a relatively small team but this crisis has shown how big the “heart” of the unit is and I am immensely proud of them all.