Beating bowel cancer together

Half of people needing urgent investigations for bowel cancer waiting too long

Thursday 13 January 2022

Figures published by NHS England today (Thursday 13 January 2022) show that half of people on an urgent referral for bowel cancer investigation were waiting longer than 28 days for diagnosis, or to have a cancer diagnosis ruled out.

As of September 2021, NHS England set a target of 75% of all people should be told if they have cancer or not within 28 days of urgent referral. While most of those waiting won't have bowel cancer, early diagnosis saves lives so it's important that people are seen as quickly as possible.

The figures, which are for November 2021, also show that almost one in five people who should be seen within two weeks of an urgent referral for suspected bowel cancer were waiting longer than 14 days.

Of the over 88,000 people on the waiting list for investigations in November, over a third were waiting more than six weeks for an endoscopy (colonoscopy or flexi-sigmoidoscopy which can diagnose bowel cancer), with nearly a quarter of people waiting more than 13 weeks.

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

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, says: "The latest figures from NHS England demonstrate there is still a bottleneck in the pathway to get people diagnosed because once someone has a bowel cancer diagnosis they do start treatment swiftly. However, comparing the data from October and November the pressures on diagnostic services are getting worse as few people overall have been seen within the targeted time.

"These numbers also don't take into consideration winter pressures or growing pressure on the NHS as they are reflective of the situation in November so it is likely to get worse over the coming months with the increasing number of NHS staff off sick in December due to the Omicron variant. We will need to wait and see what impact this has had for people coming forward and being seen in a timely manner for vital bowel cancer tests.

"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. Nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage however this drops significantly as the disease develops."

Here at Bowel Cancer UK we're campaigning and working hard to improve capacity within diagnostic services:

  • We're currently meeting with MPs to discuss our report 'Improving Bowel Cancer Outcomes: A Roadmap for Change' which calls for urgent investment in diagnostic workforce and kit. We launched the report at a parliamentary roundtable in November which was attended by leading clinicians and Parliamentarians with an interest in bowel cancer and chaired by former NHS Cancer Director and lead author of NHS England's recent review of cancer diagnostic capacity, Professor Sir Mike Richards. We want to see the report's recommendations implemented as a matter of urgency.
  • We're feeding into the Health and Social Care Select Committee Expert Panel's call for evidence on the cancer inquiry. The Panel's final report will include a comprehensive 'scorecard' rating on the progress the Government has made against its cancer commitments providing the Committee with a comprehensive and independent analysis and support them to hold the Government to account for its actions.
  • Along with other cancer charities, we've written to Amanda Pritchard, Chief Executive of NHS England and Improvement, to ask her to ensure that cancer services are prioritised in the Elective Recovery Plan which is due to be published soon.
  • We're one of almost 90 organisations who are backing an amendment to the Health and Care bill to strengthen workforce planning. Peers will have the opportunity to debate and vote on this amendment next week so we are briefing Peers supportive of bowel cancer patients to explain the need for this amendment to improve bowel cancer outcomes.

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