Bowel screening scheme roll-out may face delays

The national bowel screening programme, due to be rolled out next week, is unlikely to go ahead as planned, the president of the British Society of Gastroenterology has warned.

This comes weeks after the DoH denied the bowel screening programme could be delayed or cancelled because of lack of funds (GP, 3 February).

Speaking at the society's annual scientific meeting in Birmingham this week, Professor Tony Morris, director of the National Endoscopy Training Centre at the Royal Liverpool Hospital, said the programme was on hold because the money to fund it had not been released.

'It is supposed to start on 1 April, but the nurse screeners have not yet been appointed,' he said.

The bowel screening programme is due to be rolled out to 25 per cent of England this year, starting in areas of high deprivation and extended to the rest of the country by the end of 2009.

But Professor Morris said that the programme would initially be limited to the pilot site in Coventry. He added that the decision to delay the programme was 'disappointing'.

A DoH spokeswoman said: 'The DoH budgets for 2006/7 are being finalised and we will make an announcement in due course, but the programme will be rolled out from April 2006 as stated in the White Paper'.

However, she was unable to say how many of the planned sites would be able to start the screening work this year.

Dr Richard Stevens, Oxford GP and chairman of the Primary Care Gastroenterology Society, said: 'Without the endoscopists and nurses needed, I don't see how this can go ahead.'

He added that the programme could still be rolled out nationally by 2009.

'It would need to be prioritised above other things and I can't see that happening,' he said.

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