COVID-19 and bowel cancer
Throughout the pandemic, we campaigned to rebuild and transform bowel cancer services that were impacted by COVID-19. The pandemic had a devastating impact on bowel cancer diagnosis, treatment and care, and affected the big issues we worked on.
NHS staff worked hard to get services back up and running under unprecedented strain, but action and investment was needed from governments and the NHS across the UK to ensure bowel cancer services were a priority as the NHS rebuilt and recovered.
What were the issues?
- Growing waiting lists: Even before the pandemic, too many people were waiting too long for tests to confirm or rule out a bowel cancer diagnosis. Since the pandemic hit, waiting times continued to grow at a worrying rate with a serious backlog of patients waiting for crucial tests that can diagnose bowel cancer. Without an increase in staff and equipment that diagnose bowel cancer, or new innovate ways to identify individuals who should be prioritised for these tests it could take years to get these waiting times under control.
- Missing bowel cancers: During the pandemic there was a significant drop in the number of people referred urgently with symptoms of bowel cancer. Bowel cancer screening programmes and many endoscopy tests were put on hold meaning that fewer people were diagnosed. There was a hidden backlog of people, with thousands of fewer bowel cancers diagnosed compared to pre-pandemic times.
- Reversing progress: Before the pandemic, bowel cancer survival in the UK sadly lagged behind international countries with comparable systems. While the full impact of the pandemic on bowel cancer is yet to be realised, without action and investment, bowel cancer survival may return to a level not seen since 2010. We couldn't allow a decade of progress to be lost.
What did we campaign for?
- Tackle the backlog: To develop national plans to recover bowel cancer services using robust data and with enough investment from governments to ensure capacity issues facing diagnostic services were addressed. This would ensure bowel cancer patients could be seen and start treatment quickly.
- Long term investment in NHS staff and equipment: We needed long-term sustainable investment to train and employ more staff in key cancer professions and replace ageing equipment to meet the growing demand. This would help tackle the backlog of patients, growing waiting times and enable vital improvements to be made to bowel cancer screening programmes.
- National plans to transform services: Under unprecedented strain, the NHS embraced innovation, accelerated the adoption of new technologies and changed clinical practice to tackle tough challenges head on. This must continue. Moving forward, the NHS and governments must develop national plans on how they will transform bowel cancer services to increase the number of people diagnosed with bowel cancer at an early stage, when it's treatable and curable.
- Protection for people who are immunosuppressed: People who are severely immunosuppressed, such as those on certain cancer treatments, may be less protected from COVID-19 than the wider population. We wanted further research into the effectiveness of the vaccines, and timely access to all doses for people who need them. In addition, ensuring employers provided reasonable adjustments to working arrangements for people who may be immunosuppressed.
What have we done?
Since the start of the pandemic we worked hard across the nations to influence governments, develop evidence-based policy and respond to consultations to ensure cancer remained a priority in the recovery and transformation of NHS services.
- We fed into national recovery plans and health inquiries to ensure that bowel cancer screening and endoscopy services were funded sufficiently so that services could be fully restored. However, it isn't good enough to simply go back to pre-pandemic times so we've influenced new national strategies and plans to transform cancer outcomes, including speaking at a roundtable hosted by Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State, on World Cancer Day 2022 to discuss the challenges in improving bowel cancer outcomes.
- We met with NHS and parliamentary leaders to share the concerns of our community throughout the pandemic, making it clear that bowel cancer patients must receive timely access to tests, appropriate treatment and psychosocial support throughout their treatment and beyond. We worked in coalition with other health charities to amplify the issues for those who were clinically extremely vulnerable especially on the effectiveness and access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
- We launched a new report 'Improving Bowel Cancer Outcomes: A Roadmap for Change' which laid out clear issues that must be addressed to improve bowel cancer in the UK. It called for urgent investment in staff and equipment that can help diagnose bowel cancer. We launched this report at a Westminster parliamentary roundtable in November 2021 which was attended by leading clinicians and chaired by former NHS Cancer Director, Professor Sir Mike Richards.
- We were one of over 100 organisations who worked to make changes to the Health and Care Bill in England to strengthen workforce planning and make the staffing needs of NHS England more transparent.
Pictured above: Our CEO Genevieve Edwards met with Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP and other leading cancer organisations on World Cancer Day, Thursday 4 February 2022.
Ways to get involved
- Become a campaigner. Join the thousands of people campaigning to help make real change happen for people with bowel cancer
- Read our blog on the impact of increasing delays to diagnosis for patients across the UK
- Read our blog on the devastating impact of COVID-19 on bowel cancer treatment and care in England
- Share your story. If your testing or treatment for bowel cancer was disrupted or delayed due to COVID-19 we want to hear from you