More than half of Scottish Health Boards in breach of waiting time target for bowel cancer tests
Today we’re highlighting the scale of the endoscopy crisis in Scotland. Statistics published by ISD Scotland reveal 57% of Health Boards as at 30 September 2018 were in breach of the national waiting time standard that patients should be waiting no longer than six weeks for tests that could diagnose bowel cancer.
Waiting time breaches for colonoscopy is one of the highest out of all the diagnostic tests in Scotland. Today’s statistics present a worrying picture and demonstrate the urgent need to tackle the growing endoscopy crisis in Scotland.
Colonoscopy is a type of endoscopy procedure that can detect bowel cancer at the earliest stage of the disease when it is treatable and curable, it can also prevent bowel cancer by removing pre-cancerous polyps.
Waiting times are a vital part of the patient pathway – the sooner a patient is diagnosed the earlier they can start treatment or receive the ‘all clear’, which will alleviate their fears.
As at 30 September 2018, 57% of Health Boards in Scotland were in breach of the national standard each month, with over 5,000 patients on average per month waiting longer than six weeks for a colonoscopy.
In some Health Boards like NHS Lothian nearly three quarters of patients (70%) are waiting more than six weeks for a colonoscopy appointment, as at 30 September 2018.
Today’s waiting times are evidence that demand for endoscopy tests is outstripping capacity. Many hospitals are under severe pressure and at breaking point because they simply do not have the capacity to meet the growing demand. An ageing population and the roll out of the new bowel cancer screening test, which is more accurate than the previous test, combined with a lack of funding, limited resources and shortage of staff to carry out the procedures, has led to this endoscopy crisis.
In June 2018, the Scottish Government announced a National Endoscopy Action Plan, with total funding of £14 million, to ensure that those who have been waiting longer than six weeks for tests that could diagnose bowel cancer are seen as a matter of urgency. Despite this pledge, the action plan outlining how the government intends to drive down waiting times for patients and ensure there are enough NHS staff to carry out these life-saving tests, has yet to be published.
Claire Donaghy, Head of Scotland for Bowel Cancer UK, says: “Demand for these tests has been increasing, particularly since the introduction of the bowel cancer screening programme and recent roll out of the new and more accurate, faecal immunochemical test. How this growing demand will be met is a serious challenge for the health service in Scotland. It’s crucial that health boards have the endoscopy capacity needed to meet demand and ensure patients are not waiting longer than the six week waiting time standard for key tests that can diagnose bowel cancer.
“With the cancer strategy failing to deliver, the Scottish Government must publish their plan of action to tackle the growing endoscopy crisis in Scotland. If ignored, services will continue to struggle to provide timely, high quality care to all and patients will be kept waiting for crucial diagnostic tests.”