Predictable rise in bowel cancer referral waits

THE number of patients in England waiting longer than six weeks for tests to diagnose bowel cancer has risen by 60 per cent during the pandemic, according to NHS figures.

Bowel Cancer UK has highlighted that in July around 40 per cent of patients waited more than 13 weeks for tests to investigate bowel cancer symptoms, which is more than twice the six-week target set by NHS England.

It also points out that in May, 67 per cent of patients referred for a colonoscopy or flexi sigmoidoscopy were not seen within the six-week target, an increase from the start from February the figure was only 10 per cent.

Urgent referrals have also reduced with 12 per cent of patients waiting longer than the two-week target. These figures reflect concerns that people have not visited GPs for advice during lockdown with referrals for urgent suspected cancer falling from 35,888 in March to 13,389 in May, although the number in June rose to 25,933.

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive at Bowel Cancer UK, said: “These figures are incredibly alarming. Bowel cancer services were already stretched at the start of the year, with too many people not being seen for urgent investigations, even before the coronavirus pandemic hit hard.

“Bowel cancer is the UK’s fourth most common cancer and the second biggest cancer killer, but it’s treatable and curable, especially if it’s caught early. The huge endoscopy backlog we’re now facing as a result of COVID-19 needs to be dealt with, and quickly.

“We’re calling on the Government to address the endoscopy capacity crisis as a priority to ensure even more people aren’t diagnosed with bowel cancer at a later stage, when their chances of survival can be significantly cut.”

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