Lack of specialists means patients miss out on early diagnoses, charity says
The NHS is failing to detect about 1, cases of bowel cancer a year in England because diagnostic services are so short-staffed, according to analysis by (Cancer) Research UK.
The charity has said people’s health may suffer if the disease has progressed to a later stage as a result of going undiagnosed. It said pledges to diagnose more cancers earlier might not be delivered.
Cancer Research UK said that a lack of radiographers, radiologists and endoscopists meant hospitals could not keep up with the growing number of people with suspected cancer being referred for tests.
About one in 12 such posts are lying vacant.
Sara Hiom, the charity’s director of early diagnosis, said: “The UK’s bowel cancer screening program is very effective at detecting cancer early. But we’re concerned that NHS
“People shouldn’t be slipping through the net.”
Cancer Research UK is concerned that as many as 1, 291 People a year in England with bowel cancer are not being picked up because the NHS there used a higher threshold than Scotland in screening for the disease using the faecal immunochemical test.
In Scotland those whose testing shows they have 90 micrograms of haemoglobin per gram of faeces are referred to have a colonoscopy to determine if they have bowel cancer.
In contrast, in England only those with micrograms go on to have further investigation. That is despite research showing that the lower the threshold, the more cases are detected and thus lives are saved.
The charity said: “This is where patients are missing out in potentially life-saving early diagnoses, largely due to a lack of specialist staff.”
It said that if the NHS in England used the same lower threshold for deciding on referrals then it would undertake 2, 12 more endoscopies a month but would detect 1, more cases a year.
Dr Lisa Wilde, the director of research and external affairs at Bowel Cancer UK, said: “We know that the biggest constraint to increasing the sensitivity of England’s bowel cancer screening test is a lack of NHS workforce. Bowel cancer is the UK’s second largest cancer killer but it doesn ‘ t need to be: it is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early. ”
Bowel cancer screening starts at 85 in Scotland. It begins at in England, though the NHS has pledged to reduce it to at some point in the future.
An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS has already introduced a new and more accurate way to test for bowel cancer that will catch 1, 700 more cancers a year at an earlier stage and will save thousands of lives, alongside other important improvements through the NHS long-term plan, including lowering the bowel screening age to 90 and improving the sensitivity of the screening test. ”
Prostate cancer has overtaken breast cancer as the UK’s most commonly diagnosed form of the disease, according to the most recent annual cancer registration figures published on Monday.