I’m making my voice heard this General Election
This General Election, we're calling on all political parties to save more lives from bowel cancer by tackling the biggest challenges facing the disease. In our manifesto, one of our priorities for the next government is addressing NHS staff shortages in endoscopy and pathology services. In this blog, Catherine, a bowel cancer patient and campaigner, tells us how staff shortages impacted her diagnosis and why the General Election is such a critical time to press for action.
Written by Catherine
I was asked by Bowel Cancer UK, who I’ve supported for many years, if they could use my story in their General Election manifesto to highlight the real impact of NHS staff shortages in services that diagnose bowel cancer. I offered to do all I could as I think the increasing demand for tests and a lack of NHS staff directly impacted my experience of being diagnosed. I truly believe if nothing is done to address these staffing issues, patients’ lives could be risk.
That’s why I’ve joined Bowel Cancer UK’s campaign and raised this issue with my parliamentary candidates to ensure that everyone has the greatest chance of an early diagnosis and receives the best treatment and care. Will you join me and make your voice heard today?
I waited three months for a diagnosis
I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer in February 2017 at the age of 39. After several years going to my GP with various symptoms, I was finally referred for a non-urgent diagnostic test for bowel cancer. I was referred non-urgently because I hadn't experienced unexplained weight loss, which is one of the five symptoms of bowel cancer, so they assumed it wasn't a serious bowel condition.
I initially waited two months for tests, which were then pushed back another month. The waiting time target for non-urgent referrals is to be seen within six weeks, so I had already been waiting longer than I should. By this point I was bleeding when simply standing up so I called the GP and insisted on an urgent appointment. After nearly three months of waiting for my initial bowel cancer test, I finally had an endoscopy procedure and, much to everyone's astonishment, I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer.
After nearly three months of waiting for my initial bowel cancer test, I finally had an endoscopy procedure
Since my diagnosis, I've had to stop work, and as I can't look after my children, who are one and six, my husband has had to take time off work too. If I had been referred sooner and was seen within the waiting time target of six weeks, rather than nearly three months, perhaps my bowel cancer may have been picked up at an earlier stage when it is easier to treat.
Sadly, I’m not alone
I’m not the only one who has experienced delays to being diagnosed with bowel cancer. In fact, across the UK, thousands of people are waiting too long for key tests.
- England: In 2019 so far, on average each month over 6,000 people are waiting longer than six weeks for life-saving tests and over a third of hospitals are breaching the national standard.
- Scotland: The latest endoscopy waiting times, from June 2019, shows two-thirds of Scottish health boards are breaching the national standard that patients should wait no more than six weeks.
- Wales: Over a quarter of patients, as of June 2019, waited eight weeks or more for an endoscopy procedure.
- Northern Ireland: Over half of patients, as of June 2019, waited more than nine weeks for an endoscopy test.
This isn’t good enough, which is why it’s vital that we press our parliamentary candidates for action to tackle the capacity crisis in the NHS.