Monday 30th January heralds the start of the DOH 9 week Be Clear on Bowel Cancer campaign.
Results from the pilot campaigns showed a near 50% increase in GP attendances of people aged over 50 with symptoms and a 30% increase over a 6 month period in hospital referrals. This lead to a significant increase in the numbers of people waiting for a colonoscopy with that number actually doubling in some areas.
The national campaign will inevitably have an impact on current NHS colonoscopy services at a time when colonoscopy activity in England is still low when compared with other countries. Some NHS trusts have already waiting times of greater than six weeks and the planned campaign will put further pressure on those services.
Whilst waiting list initiatives may well be used to address the immediate issues, the pressure on colonoscopy services for trusts will not go away. Demand for colonoscopy is expected to increase year on year over the next five years at least as the age limits for bowel cancer screening are increased for people aged 70-75, more diagnostic and surveillance colonoscopies are performed and the planned flexible sigmoidoscopy screening program is rolled out.
Hospital trusts and clinicians will need to plan for and adequately resource colonoscopy services if we are to meet the forthcoming demands.