Beating bowel cancer together

Sharp increase in number of people being referred for tests that help diagnose bowel cancer

Thursday 11 November 2021

Figures published by NHS England today (Thursday 11 November 2021) show that there has been a sharp increase in the number of people being referred for tests that help diagnose bowel cancer – the highest number so far this year.

The figures, which are for September, show almost one in five people, who should be seen within two weeks of a referral for suspected bowel cancer, were waiting longer than 14 days.

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

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, says: "The latest figures from NHS England are extremely concerning and demonstrate that the bottleneck in the pathway is at the diagnosis stage, because once someone has their bowel cancer diagnosis, they do swiftly start treatment.

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. Early diagnosis saves lives – nearly everyone survives bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage however this drops significantly as the disease develops.

These numbers don't take into consideration winter pressures or growing pressure on the NHS – the NHS 999 had their busiest month in history responding to over one million calls, A&Es had their third busiest month on record, NHS waiting lists are at their highest record of 5.8 million people and all ambulance services have been put on their highest level of alert 'Code Black'."

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

  • Our new report 'Improving Bowel Cancer Outcomes: A Roadmap for Change' calls for urgent investment in diagnostic workforce and kit. We launched the report at a parliamentary roundtable on Tuesday 2 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 look forward to working together with Parliamentarians, policy makers and the wider bowel cancer community to see the report’s recommendations implemented as a matter of urgency.
  • As a member of One Cancer Voice, a collective of 49 cancer charities, we sent a letter to Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, to ask for urgent clarification on what 'hundreds of millions' earmarked for the NHS in the Comprehensive Spending Review actually means and how much will be spent on the cancer workforce specifically.
  • We're one of over 50 organisations who are backing a proposed amendment to the Health and Care bill to strengthen workforce planning by requiring the Secretary of State to publish independent assessments every two years of current and future workforce numbers consistent with long-term fiscal projections.

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