Colonoscopy delays stall screening plans

Roll-out of the national bowel cancer screening programme is being hampered by inadequate colonoscopy services, DoH figures show.

Over 20 per cent of 41,628 patients in England sent for colonoscopy were waiting for six months or more, as of April this year, while nearly 40 per cent were waiting for at least three months, according to diagnostic waiting times released by the DoH last week.

Chairman of the Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology Dr Richard Stevens said that these figures would have to be drastically reduced if bowel cancer screening was to go ahead.

'There is still a huge issue around capacity. In order to mount a screening programme we need waiting times down to three or four weeks,' he said.

The first screening centre in the three-year roll-out opened in Wolverhampton this month.

Dr Andy Vitch, gastroenterologist and clinical lead at the centre, said its colonoscopy waiting times were averaging six weeks.

'In order to be considered as a screening centre, hospitals have to have routine colonoscopy waits of six weeks or less, and two weeks or less for urgent referral.'

He added that some hospitals' applications had been turned down because of substandard colonoscopy services.

The next screening centre opens in Norwich this month. It is part of Cambridgeshire SHA, where 423 of 1,566 patients were waiting at least three months and 100 patients at least six for colonoscopy in April.

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