Our response to the issue of delays in access to diagnostic tests
In today’s Daily Telegraph Dr Nick Summerton, who sits on the Department of Health's early cancer diagnosis panel, has made comments about patients who have two wait months for diagnostic tests for bowel cancer. Dr Summerton, a GP, said patients should have the opportunity to pay for faster access to bowel cancer tests, such as colonoscopies or sigmoidoscopies, if they are not considered to fit the urgent two week referral criteria.
Improving access to endocsopy services
Dr Summerton's comments came as an investigation by GP magazine found that half of English local health authorities have not yet taken steps to expand their endoscopy services, despite around £450m being allocated to PCTs between 2011/12 and 2013/14 to improve access to diagnostic tests for cancer.
GP found that half of 94 PCTs that responded to a Freedom of Information request took no action in 2011/12 to increase capacity of their endoscopy services. Furthermore, GP found that 85% of PCTs that did not invest last year, have no plans to do so this year either, despite the Department of Health’s commitment to increasing endoscopy capacity as a key priority in 2012/13.
Be persistent with your GP
Earlier diagnosis of bowel cancer saves lives so it is important that anyone worried that they may have symptoms of bowel cancer should seek help from their GP. We recommend that any patients with persistent bowel symptoms, such as looser poo or blood in your poo, should continue to visit their GP until their symptoms are diagnosed.
If your GP suspects cancer you should be referred for diagnostic tests within two weeks. This issue of limited availability of diagnostic testing for bowel cancer may affect those patients whose GPs do not consider them to be at high risk of cancer, but need to rule it out. (For more information about what you can expect from your GP read Talk to Your GP)
GPs will need to ensure funds are spent appropriately
Our Chief Executive Mark Flannagan says: “From April 2013 it will be the responsibility of GP commissioners to ensure that these funds are being spent appropriately in their local area. Not investing in this way is a false economy and a saving the NHS cannot afford to make.
“As a charity Beating Bowel Cancer is increasingly involved in shaping and influencing health policy at all levels which will benefit bowel cancer patients and their carers. We recently published Equity and Excellence for Bowel Cancer, which sets out our recommendations for how bowel cancer outcomes can be improved. A key part of this is about ensuring that NHS services plan effectively capacity for diagnostics, treatment and support services. We are actively working with the NHS at every level to ensure this happens.”
Letter to editor
Beating Bowel Cancer has responded to the Daily Telegraph article with the following letter:
"To say that “patients should have the opportunity to pay for faster access to bowel cancer tests” is worrying as Dr Nick Summerton sits on the Department of Health’s Early Cancer Diagnosis Panel.
If we are to save lives then all cancer patients need fast access to diagnostic tests. The two week wait for urgent referrals was a real win, but patients who present to their GP with symptoms but are deemed non-urgent cases are still being let down.
Increased awareness of bowel cancer and its symptoms means that more and more people are in need of endoscopic tests. The system must be flexible to meet this new demand, and needs to urgently respond to the lack of supply. If patients are to access the diagnostic tests they need without having to put their hand in their pockets, then the NHS must work for patients rather than the other way round.”