Bowel cancers 'missed' by overstretched services, charity warns

Efforts to prevent deaths from bowel cancer are being undermined because diagnostic services are stretched amid growing demand, a charity has warned.

Endoscopy teams could be supported by GP commissioners
Endoscopy teams could be supported by GP commissioners

A report by Bowel Cancer UK said access to endoscopy was inadequate and may be putting patients' lives at risk. This is despite the DH pledging millions more to endoscopy scans under its Cancer Strategy.

The report cited an investigation by GP in May, which found that half of PCTs made no attempt to expand or invest in additional endoscopy services in 2011/12.

The charity said patients who are at higher risk of bowel cancer and need regular checks face delays accessing vital scans, but these are ignored in official waiting times figures. It wants GP commissioners to help endoscopy teams manage the rising demand.

Ministers have allocated £450m to PCTs over four years from 2011/12 to improve endoscopy services.

In the report, entitled Improving Capacity, Saving Lives, Bowel Cancer UK said that, despite this investment, mortality rates for bowel cancer had remained at 18 in 100,000 people since 2003. It said 25% of colonoscopy providers and 21% of flexible sigmoidoscopy providers had at least a quarter of patients waiting over four weeks. Certain areas of the UK are performing three times as many of these procedures as others.

Some patients are at much higher risk of bowel cancer due to conditions such as IBD and need regular surveillance using endoscopy. But waiting times for these patients are 'unacceptable', the charity said.

Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said: 'It beggars belief that some of those at highest risk of developing bowel cancer are currently not benefiting from a high-quality surveillance system, and this must be addressed urgently.

'Hospital trusts and commissioners must take action now and ensure diagnostic services are consistently of the highest quality, and able to meet existing and future demand. This is not a "nice to have", it is a "must have", if lives are to be saved from bowel cancer.'

The charity wants the DH to begin recording data on patients who need regular surveillance and to include them in official figures on six-week waiting times for diagnostic scans.

A DH spokesman said: 'Bowel cancer survival rates have improved a lot over the last decade thanks to earlier detection and better treatment but we know more needs to be done.

'We are running bowel cancer awareness campaigns to encourage people to go to their doctor sooner and investing £450m to get people diagnosed earlier. We expect the NHS to have proper systems in place to monitor those at highest risk of developing cancer.'

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