Beating bowel cancer together

Almost half of people needing urgent investigations for bowel cancer symptoms are waiting too long

Thursday 9 September 2021

Figures published by NHS England today show that almost half of people on an urgent referral for bowel cancer investigation were waiting longer than 28 days for a diagnosis.

The figures also show 13% (5,340 people) of patients who need urgent bowel cancer tests, and who should be seen within two weeks of a referral for suspected bowel cancer, were waiting longer than 14 days in July 2021.

Of the almost 90,000 people on the waiting list for investigations in July 2021, 40% (34,859 people) were waiting more than six weeks for an endoscopy (colonoscopy or flexi-sigmoidoscopy, which can diagnose bowel cancer), with more than a third of people (36%, or 31,277) waiting more than 13 weeks.

To compare, before the pandemic in February 2020, 10% of patients (7,054) waiting for a colonoscopy or flexi-sigmoidoscopy had to wait longer than six weeks and 3% (2,218) waited longer than 13 weeks.

Most of those waiting won't have bowel cancer, but we know that almost a quarter of those patients are diagnosed with the disease every year through this routine GP referral.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on bowel cancer services, and endoscopies for all but emergency and essential procedures were initially paused due to the pandemic. NHS staff have worked incredibly hard to restart these services but the initial pause has led to a growing backlog in patients waiting to be seen or diagnosed.

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, says: "The figures released today show the stark reality that too many people are waiting an unacceptably long time for a diagnosis, causing undue worry and uncertainty.

"Bowel cancer is the UK's second biggest cancer killer, but it's treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early, and it's tragic that some patients will face poorer outcomes as a result of having to wait too long for tests before starting treatment.

"The NHS has worked incredibly hard to continue delivering cancer services under great strain, but if the Government are to achieve its target of diagnosing 75% of cancers at an early stage by 2028, then they must use the Comprehensive Spending Review in October to invest in the cancer workforce to meet current and future demand. They also need to provide sufficient capital investment to expand endoscopy capacity, without which waiting times issues will never be addressed."

  • Read more about how we plan to tackle the endoscopy crisis in our End the Capacity Crisis campaign
  • Watch our new animation to get the key facts about bowel cancer
  • Become a campaign supporter and join thousands of people who are making real change happen for people affected by bowel cancer.

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