Beating bowel cancer together

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

Thursday 14 October 2021

Figures published by NHS England today (Thursday 14 October 2021) show that almost half of people on an urgent referral in August 2021 for bowel cancer investigation were waiting longer than 28 days for a diagnosis.

The figures also show 15% (6,297 people) of patients who need urgent tests for bowel cancer, and who should be seen within two weeks of a referral for suspected bowel cancer, were waiting longer than 14 days in August 2021.

Of the almost 85,000 people on the waiting list for investigations in August 2021, 42% (35,697 people) were waiting more than six weeks for an endoscopy (colonoscopy or flexi-sigmoidoscopy, which can diagnose bowel cancer), with a quarter of people (21,348) waiting more than 13 weeks.

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

While most of those waiting won't have bowel cancer, we know that almost a quarter of those patients are diagnosed with the disease every year through 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: "It's extremely concerning that only half of all patients waiting for an endoscopy are tested and receive their result within 28 days.

"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 to invest in the cancer workforce to meet current and future demand."

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