Beating bowel cancer together

NHS England release new plans to rebuild after COVID-19 disruption

Today (31 July 2020) NHS England have published their plans for the third phase to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to NHS Trusts, Sir Simon Stevens and Amanda Pritchard set out the NHS priorities for the rest of 2020/21. The top priorities from August 2020 will be:

  • Speeding up the return to near-normal levels of non-COVID health services, making full use of the capacity available in the ‘window of opportunity’ between now and winter
  • Preparation for winter demand pressures, alongside monitoring for further local and national COVID outbreaks.
  • Taking account of lessons learned during the first COVID peak

The letter outlines an ambition to restore full operation of all cancer services by:  

  • Working with GPs and the public to encourage people to come forward with cancer symptoms and get the numbers of people being referred with suspected cancer to pre-pandemic levels.
  • Making sure enough capacity to diagnose cancer is in place in Covid19-secure environments, by using independent hospital facilities, and developing Community Diagnostic Hubs and Rapid Diagnostic Centres
  • Increasing endoscopy (the tests used to diagnose bowel cancer) capacity to normal levels by releasing endoscopy staff from other duties, separating upper and lower GI (non-aerosol-generating) procedures, and using CT colonography as a substitute for colonoscopy when it’s appropriate to do so.
  • Expanding the capacity of surgery to meet demand
  • Fully restarting all cancer screening programmes.

The ambition is to reducing the number of patients waiting for diagnostics and/or treatment longer than 62 days on an urgent pathway, or over 31 days on a treatment pathway, to pre-pandemic levels, with an immediate plan for managing those waiting longer than 104 days. In order to do this, the NHS will need to:

  • Return to at least 90% of last year’s levels of CT/MRI scans and endoscopy procedures, with an ambition to reach 100% by October 2020.
  • Every patient whose planned care has been disrupted by COVID should receive clear communication about how they will be looked after, and who to contact in the event that their circumstances change

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive, Bowel Cancer UK says: “We are pleased to see a firm commitment to restoring cancer services, including endoscopy capacity and bowel screening, during this third phase of the NHS recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Bowel cancer has been hit particularly hard by COVID; with the perfect storm of fewer GP referrals, pauses in screening, and delays and cancellation to diagnostics and treatments.  This will inevitably lead to a rise in the number of bowel cancer patients over the coming months. 

While it is admirable that an ambitions target to restore endoscopy to pre-pandemic levels is provided; it will require so much more than ‘business as usual’ in the coming months and years to prevent a raft of avoidable cancer deaths. However, today’s announcement is a welcome step in the right direction”.

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