About a quarter of hospitals were in breach of the waiting-time target for endoscopy tests that could diagnose bowel cancer every month last year, a charity has warned.
Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer said waiting-time figures released by NHS England highlight the “scale of the endoscopy crisis” and are further evidence that demand for diagnostic tests is outstripping capacity.
Every month last year almost 2,900 patients on average had to wait longer than six weeks for endoscopy tests at their local hospital in England while an average of more than 2,300 patients with suspected cancer had to wait longer than two weeks for an urgent referral.
Overall in 2017, 26% of hospitals were in breach of the six-week waiting time target for endoscopy tests.
The charity said a lack of funding, staff shortages and not enough resources were all part of the problem.
“Many hospitals are at breaking point because they simply do not have the capacity to meet growing demand,” it warned.
A new screening method – the faecal immunochemical test (FIT) – which is more accurate, easier to use and has proven to increase uptake is due to be rolled out in April.
The charity said it is concerned the delays for endoscopy tests could hold up its launch.
Screening remains one of the most effective ways of detecting bowel cancer in its earliest stages when treatment has the best chance of success.
Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in England, responsible for about 13,000 deaths each year.
Although 98% of patients will survive for five years or more if they are diagnosed at the first stage, currently only 15% are.
“That’s why the possibility of a delay to implementing this life-saving test is simply unacceptable.
“The benefits of FIT are well-established – it can detect twice as many cancers and four times as many advanced adenomas than the current screening test.
“As such, it has a vital role to play in improving survival rates for the UK’s second biggest cancer killer. But the NHS must be given the resource to make this a reality.”