Beating bowel cancer together

Ending the capacity crisis

This autumn we’re launching our new campaign calling on the Government to develop a fully funded action plan to tackle NHS staff shortages and end the capacity crisis. Timely access to tests for bowel cancer is key to improving early diagnosis, but services to diagnose bowel cancer have been under staffed and under resourced for some time now. That’s why we need your help to put pressure on the Government to ensure funding is properly allocated and ring fenced to address this growing crisis.

Why now?

With NHS England currently developing its new 10 Year Plan and the Government’s £20 billion NHS funding announcement coming up in November, now is the crucial time to ensure challenges to workforce are prioritised. The new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, has also set addressing workforce needs as one of his three priorities for improving NHS services. However, without additional funding ring-fenced to tackle the capacity crisis, improvements will be limited. It is critical that we act now to address this vital issue.

Services are currently relying on short-term fixes, which is both costly and unsustainable for the NHS.

In addition, as part of the current 2015 England cancer strategy, Health Education England (HEE) was tasked with developing a workforce delivery plan, known as the Cancer Workforce Plan, to ensure the NHS has sufficient numbers of skilled staff to deliver high quality care within cancer services in England. HEE subsequently published phase 1 of this plan in December 2017, and highlighted the need for a large expansion in the number of clinical endoscopists made available to improve earlier diagnosis. However, HEE’s phase 2 cancer workforce plan, which was supposed to look at longer-term workforce needs beyond 2021, is no longer happening. This leaves uncertainty over what the longer term strategy for the cancer workforce looks like. It is therefore imperative that a fully funded workforce plan to replace this is developed.

Help us by taking action today to raise the concern that if nothing is done to alleviate the mounting pressure on hospital services that test for bowel cancer, patient lives could be at risk.

What’s the problem?

The increasing demand for bowel cancer services is putting NHS hospitals under unprecedented pressure because there simply isn’t enough endoscopy and pathology staff to deal with this demand. At the very least, nearly a million more tests are needed year on year. Already thousands of patients are waiting longer for life saving tests that diagnose bowel cancer, and nearly half of hospitals are breaching waiting time targets for these life-saving tests.

In response to this issue, the Government has committed to training 400 clinical endoscopists to carry out an additional 450,000 endoscopies every year by 2021. However, this is not enough to plug the gap and as of May 2018, just 130 have been recruited. Services are currently relying on short-term fixes, which is both costly and unsustainable for the NHS. The Endoscopy National Survey published in 2017 found that bowel cancer services have introduced extended working hours over the weekend and many hospitals reported paying extra for bowel cancer diagnostic workload to be outsourced to external private providers to cope with demand. 

The current workforce shortage represents the single biggest barrier to delivering this world-class screening programme for bowel cancer patients

This lack of capacity is the root cause of many of the challenges facing the disease right now and is impacting on initiatives, such as improving the bowel cancer screening programme. For example, an optimal bowel cancer screening programme, which the Government has committed to, using the simpler and more accurate screening test (the faecal immunochemical test) at a sensitivity level of 20ug/g for people aged 50-74 has the potential to detect twice as many cancers and four times as many pre-cancerous adenomas. But this would have a significant impact on both colonoscopy and pathology services and as it stands, the current workforce shortage represents the single biggest barrier to delivering this world-class screening programme for bowel cancer patients.

That’s why we urgently need a fully funded action plan to address these issues. 

What are we calling for?

We’re calling on the Chancellor and the Department of Health and Social Care to agree to a fully funded endoscopy action plan to tackle staff shortages in diagnostic services for bowel cancer. This must be comprehensive and set out clear recommendations that address current workforce shortages and allow for future growth.We cannot continue to paper over the cracks with short-term initiatives; we need a long-term solution to finally deal with this crisis in diagnostic services for bowel cancer. With the imminent Government spending review and development of the NHS 10 Year Plan, now is the time to act.

  • Share your story. If you’ve been kept waiting for a test for bowel cancer we want to hear from you.

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