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NHS delays put thousands of bowel cancer patients at risk

Posted on 4/04/2018 by

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NHS staff shortages are putting thousands of bowel cancer patients at risk by causing dangerous delays for potentially live-saving tests, official figures reveal.

Patient groups have criticised the “unacceptable” waits suffered by more than 5,000 people  a year due to a lack of endoscopists which are frustrating efforts to cut down on Britain’s second biggest cancer killer.

The data comes after the former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley revealed he is being treated for Stage 3 bowel cancer.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph yesterday, he criticised Treasury cuts which have curtailed a national screening programme but for which his condition might have been detected sooner.

New NHS figures show that 2,379 patients with suspected cancer waited beyond the two week target for an urgent endoscopy in 2017.

Meanwhile 2,889 people displaying symptoms that do not necessarily indicate bowel cancer but should be checked out were forced to wait beyond the six-week health service maximum.

Overall a quarter of hospitals breached national waiting time targets last year.

In January, a report published by the UK National Screening Committee recommended lowering the screening age for bowel cancer in England from 60 to 50, which is the case in Scotland.

It followed a commitment by NHS England in November to introduce the new FIT (Faecal Immunochemical Test) screening.

If bowel cancer is diagnosed at Stage 1, where the disease has not spread to the outer wall of the bowel, 98 per cent of patients will survive for at least five years.

However, only 15 per cent of patients are diagnosed at this stage.

Lord Lansley, who was Health Secretary between 2010 and 2012, said this week that Treasury cuts to staff training had hit the roll-out of an earlier screening programme because of the impact on endoscopist numbers.

Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer, said screening was the best way of detecting the disease at the earliest stage and affords the biggest chance of survival.

“That’s why the possibility of a delay to implementing this life-saving test [FIT] is simply unacceptable.”

Currently just over 60 per cent of those whose disease is discovered at Stage 3, such as Lord Lansley, survive beyond five years.

The Conservative peer said his condition was only diagnosed due to his wife "nagging" him to see a GP because of back pain.

Overall, nearly 42,000 people are diagnosed each year, with 16,000 deaths, according to Cancer Research UK.

The Government has said  it is spending £25 billion more on health services in England than in 2010, with 42,700 more professionally qualified staff looking after patients.

Source: Telegraph