This evening, the Lieutenant Governor will be at Noble’s Hospital to unveil the plans for a new, dedicated breast unit. Behind this ambitious project is a remarkable woman.
In 2012 Noble’s Hospital scored something of a coup when it managed to secure the services of a highly-skilled and experienced consultant surgeon, Millie Bello, with a view to developing the breast service here.
But Millie has taken it a stage further with her vision of the new breast unit.
‘I am very apprehensive because I think it is a very tall order,’ she said.
‘I can’t do it on my own, it’s not about me, it’s the whole team– it’s all of us. I’m happy to be at the forefront but behind the scenes we have the breast care nurses, surgeons, the radiologist, the radiographers, the pathologist – it’s not about me, it’s a multi-disciplinary team,’ says Millie.
As well as the support of the Department of Health and Social Care and Noble’s Hospital management, who have made a site available on the Noble’s estate, Millie is working with the Manx Breast Cancer Support Group, mainly made up of breast cancer patients and former patients who have already raised £300,000 towards the £1.5 million cost of the new unit.
Millie was born in Nigeria but she has done all her surgical training in the UK. She had originally intended to be a paediatricsurgeon. It was a mentor of hers who suggested that her personality would suit her to being a breast surgeon.
Her specialist skills, honed at top hospitals in the UK and Europe, include breast reconstruction, aesthetic breast surgery (breast augmentation, various breast reduction techniques/ uplifts, correction of congenital breast anomaly) and sentinel lymph node biopsy, a technique which is used to see if a known cancer has spread from the original cancer site.
These were procedures which patients would previously have needed to travel off-island to access.
Millie came to the island almost by accident. She had seen a job advertised in the BMJ.
She said: ‘I wasn’t extremely keen on moving to the island because it meant relocating from England but little did I know my children in their greatest wisdom had seen a picture of the Isle of Man and liked it so they filled in the application form on my behalf!’
Millie had further, more serious reservations about working on the island because the facilities and equipment were not in place here that would allow her to put her training and skills to full use. But the hospital management were persistent, promising to buy her the instruments and equipment she needed and to support the development of a modern breast service which they saw Millie as an integral part of.
When Millie arrived, she quickly realised that there was a lot of work to be done.
‘I never knew before I came that, behind the scenes, there had been a lot of campaigning, upset, some political undertones and patient anxiety with the breast service as it was on the island,’ says Millie.
There was, however, a demonstration of good faith by the then Department of Health and the hospital management, which provided her with the means to start making a difference, as she said: ‘When I came, all the equipment that I had expressed a desire to have had been bought - a very pleasant surprise that promises were kept.’
This allowed Millie to start using her skills to offer new procedures to patients in the island.
‘The hospital management bought all the equipment and it cost them a lot of money and I’m very thankful for it because without that support we wouldn’t be in the next chapter.
‘The next chapter now is building the breast unit and I do not expect the department to provide that funding. I have the experience from my previous job at the Nottingham Breast Institute, which was built solely by the public and patients raising the funds. I have only looked at that for a reference point and because I know, and I have experienced it, how generous the people of the Isle of Man are, that it will be the same here on the island,’ said Millie.
Around 3,000 people are seen each year by the breast service on the island and of those just over 100 will be found to have breast cancer.
The new unit would put everything under one roof and offer more privacy and dignity to patients. At the moment, for example, routine breast screening is still being carried out on the old hospital site in Westmoreland Road. The new unit will house both diagnostic and treatment facilities.
Millie said: ‘It would lend itself to a more effective service, not least because it would save staff who now have to cover various areas of breast care shuttling from one site to another.
‘The kind of service people would receive would obviously be more efficiently delivered and they would have a better patient experience.
‘It helps with the service and it helps with the general morale and it helps with the journey through breast cancer.
‘I know that there are other cancers out there and that every cancer would want its own unit but we also know that breast cancer is a common cancer and one that hits home to every family.’
A Patient’s Experience
One local breast cancer patient told us of her experience of the service on the island both before and after Millie began making changes...
‘I was diagnosed as a patient on the Isle of Man in 2008. I had a sore boob and I went to my GP. I was very, very quickly sent to the breast clinic.
‘At that time I was told that there was nothing, no reconstruction happening on the island and I decided the service here just wasn’t what I was looking for. I went across for treatment –I had to leave my family and I was gone within four days of my diagnosis, I was by myself and my kids were left here and they were still young.
‘I also had to pay to have a reconstruction done privately. The type of expanding implant that I had done I even had to fly to Liverpool to have it filled with fluid – a 10-minute job that any trained nurse could have done here!
‘Since that time I’ve had another mastectomy, which Millie did on the island, and a reconstruction.
‘Believe me it is a phenomenal difference!’