Editorial: End the bowel cancer screen postcode lottery

Its supporters argue that a UK-wide QOF contributes to equality of care for patients across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But devolution inevitably means that the governments of different UK countries have different priorities which can cause emphasis on different aspects of care.

The Welsh backed devolution in 1997 because it would bring government closer to home. This week GP reveals that potentially thousands of cross-border patients are set to miss out on bowel cancer screening because of a mismatch in provision between England and Wales.

This is because patients in England are selected for bowel cancer screening according to their GP practice but in Wales according to where they live. As a result, patients living in England but registered with a GP in Wales will miss out on screening. Welsh patients registered in England are set to be called up in both countries. What a mess.

About one in 20 people in the UK will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime. It is the third most common cancer in the UK and the second leading cause of cancer deaths, with over 16,000 people dying from it each year. Regular bowel cancer screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer by 16 per cent. Clearly, screening is a serious business and deserves a coordinated and common sense approach.

According to health minister Ben Bradshaw, 'the NHS in England is well aware of the issue', as raised by GP.

A deputy director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes told GP it was looking to update the IT system to identify English residents not registered with an English practice. As one GP has warned, an unscreened patient diagnosed with bowel cancer could attempt to sue the NHS.

What seems to be lacking is any sort of urgency. Action should be taken now to end this unforgivable postcode lottery.

And this example should be used in the argument against the proliferation of local arrangements within the UK-wide QOF.

Read more opinion from the GP editorial team in the editor's blog at www.healthcarerepublic.com/blogs. This is what the team had to say this week

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