Beating bowel cancer together

COVID-19 and bowel cancer

We're campaigning to rebuild and transform bowel cancer services that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has had a devastating impact on bowel cancer diagnosis, treatment and care, and is impacting the big issues we're working on. Right now, there's a serious backlog of patients waiting for crucial tests that can diagnose bowel cancer. This must change.

NHS staff have worked hard to get services back up and running under unprecedented strain, but we need action and investment from governments and the NHS across the UK to ensure bowel cancer services are a priority as we rebuild.

What are 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 have continued to grow at a worrying rate. Right now, there's a serious backlog of patients waiting for crucial tests that can diagnose bowel cancer. Since 2019, the average number of people waiting longer than six weeks for an endoscopy has increased by almost six times. Without an increase in staff and equipment that diagnose bowel cancer, 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 have been diagnosed. There's also a hidden backlog of people yet to be seen, 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 cannot allow a decade of progress to be lost

What are we campaigning for?

  • Tackle the backlog: National plans to recover bowel cancer services must be developed using robust data and with enough investment from governments to ensure capacity issues facing diagnostic services are addressed. This will ensure bowel cancer patients can be seen and start treatment quickly
  • Long term investment in NHS staff and equipment: We need long-term sustainable investment to train and employ more staff in key cancer professions and replace ageing equipment to meet the growing demand. This will 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 has embraced innovation, accelerating the adoption of new technologies and changing clinical practice to tackle tough challenges head on. This must continue. 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 want further research into the effectiveness of the vaccines, and timely access to all doses for people who need them. In addition, employers must provide reasonable adjustments to working arrangements for people who may be immunosuppressed

What have we done so far?

Since the start of the pandemic we've been working hard across the nations to influence governments, develop evidence-based policy and respond to consultations to ensure cancer remains a priority in the recovery and transformation of NHS services.

  • We've fed into national recovery plans and health inquiries to ensure that bowel cancer screening and endoscopy services are funded sufficiently so that services can be fully restored. However, it isn't good enough to simply go back to pre-pandemic times so we're influencing 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 to discuss the challenges in improving bowel cancer outcomes
  • We've 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. Working in coalition with other health charities we amplify the issues for those who are 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 lays out clear issues that must be addressed to improve bowel cancer in the UK. It calls for urgent investment in staff and equipment that can help diagnose bowel cancer. We launched this report at a Westminster parliamentary roundtable in November which was attended by leading clinicians and chaired by former NHS Cancer Director, Professor Sir Mike Richards. We're currently developing our calls for the health leaders and governments of the devolved nations
  • We're one of over 100 organisations working to make changes to the Health and Care Bill going through Parliament 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.

How you can get involved?

  • Email your local politician and ask them to attend one of our parliamentary events this April
  • 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

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