Beating bowel cancer together

NHS England challenged to improve cancer diagnostics

Thursday 1 October 2020

A major report presented to NHS England today outlines the need to radically overhaul the way diagnostic services are delivered for patients.

Former national cancer director Professor Sir Mike Richards was asked by NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens to review diagnostic services as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, published in January 2019.

In his findings, presented to the NHS England and NHS Improvement board meeting today, Sir Mike recommends that COVID-free, community diagnostic hubs should be created to keep hospital visits to a minimum. 

Sir Mike made the following recommendations to improve the diagnosis of bowel cancer, including increasing colonoscopy capacity. Colonoscopy services have been hugely under resourced and understaffed throughout the UK for many years. Sir Mike's review also outlines how:

  • More staff need to be trained to perform colonoscopies for people with a positive bowel screening test
  • Training academies to increase the number of colonoscopists should be created
  • The NHS needs to recruit and train specialists to help and support patients undergoing colonoscopy, to ensure more procedures can be carried out effectively and increase patients' well-being
  • Investment in more endoscopy nurses to support colonoscopies is required

Professor Sir Mike Richards said: "The pandemic has brought into sharper focus the need to overhaul the way our diagnostic services are delivered. While these changes will take time and investment in facilities and more staff, it is the right moment to seize the opportunities to assist recovery and renewal of the NHS.

"Not only will these changes make services more accessible and convenient for patients but they will help improve outcomes for patients with cancer and other serious conditions."

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive for Bowel Cancer UK, said: "We have been calling for a fully-funded action plan to tackle colonoscopy shortages for many years, so we're delighted to see Sir Mike's recommendations echo our Capacity Crisis campaign. Colonoscopy workforce shortage is the single biggest barrier to delivering world-class care for bowel cancer patients.

"This procedure is key to getting a confirmed bowel cancer diagnosis, so the faster and more easily people can access colonoscopy services, the better. We would like to see NHS England act on Sir Mike's recommendations without delay, and that the upcoming spending review will provide much-needed investment to support these ambitious plans."

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