Beating bowel cancer together

We increase awareness of bowel screening for adults with learning disabilities in Scotland

Last year we delivered training to over 300 healthcare professionals working with adults who have learning disabilities across Scotland to raise awareness of bowel cancer and the screening programme.

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Scotland and the second biggest cancer killer with more than 1,600 people dying from the disease each year. Taking part in bowel screening is the best way to detect bowel cancer early and is offered to people aged 50-74 living in Scotland who are registered with a GP. However, the programme is severely underused by adults with learning disabilities with one health board reporting that just over a third of people take part in the test.

Healthcare professionals are key to increasing uptake of bowel screening for adults with learning disabilities, but our research found that they didn't have the knowledge or training to show the adults they support how to take part in the test.

To tackle this, the charity received funding from the Scottish Government Screening Inequalities Fund to provide bespoke training to healthcare professionals across the country from March 2018 to January 2019. The training covers facts about bowel cancer, symptoms of the disease, how they can reduce their risk of a diagnosis and how to complete the bowel screening test.

To help healthcare professionals have these conversations with the adults they support, the charity gave them free 'easy read' information on bowel screening as well as demonstration screening tests, in addition to the full day training.

After completing the training, one healthcare professional said: "I have successfully persuaded a service user to complete her screening. This person has never before agreed to do this. She has several of the signs and has a poor diet so this was a big moment. Her reluctance and anxiety seemed based on the idea that the screening was like having a smear test, so I think she was pleasantly surprised and extremely proud of herself."

As part of the evaluation process:

  • 100% said they felt more confident explaining the screening test after their training.
  • 3,340 is the number of additional people who have been told about bowel screening, this includes 566 people with learning disabilities and 938 colleagues that support people with a learning disability.
  • 22 was the average number of people each attendee told about bowel screening in the first three months.

Claire Donaghy, Head of Scotland for Bowel Cancer UK, says: "We are delighted that healthcare professionals feel confident and equipped to have these life-saving conversations about bowel cancer and the screening test. They are the game changers to improve uptake of the screening test for people with learning disabilities.

"It's vital that adults with learning disabilities are given the opportunity to have an informed choice about their healthcare and it's only by empowering healthcare professionals with the training that they are able to support and enable this."

Public Health Minister, Joe FitzPatrick, said: "We know that screening remains the best way to find bowel cancer early and help reduce health inequalities in cancer outcomes.

"Since the introduction of the new home test in November 2017 more people than ever before are being screened for bowel cancer and it is encouraging to see an increase in participation from groups who tend to have lower uptake.

"We are also investing £5 million over the lifetime of the Scottish Government's Cancer Strategy, to reduce inequalities in access to cancer screening.

"The Scottish Government is delighted to be able to support Bowel Cancer UK in training hundreds of healthcare professionals to raise awareness of bowel cancer and the importance of screening. I hope this will help us reduce the health inequalities which exist when it comes to screening participation rates."

We delivered 22 full day training to 304 healthcare professionals across 11 healthboards, including Ayrshire and Arran, Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Fife, Forth Valley, Grampian, Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Lothian, Orkney and Tayside.

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