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Bowel cancer outcomes in Wales among worst in Europe

Assembly report reveals just over half of those eligible get screened

An alarmingly low number of eligible people in Wales take part in bowel screening programmes, according to a National Assembly Committee report.

The Health, Social Care and Sport Committee conducted an one-day inquiry into Welsh endoscopy services.

They also concluded that the majority of the country’s health boards breach waiting times for tests that can diagnose bowel cancer.

Screening is the best way to diagnose bowel cancer early, but between April 2017 and March 2018 only 55.7 per cent of people eligible to take the bowel screening test in Wales actually completed it.

Uptake was higher in females (57.2 per cent) compared to males (54.1 per cent). The report also suggested people in more deprived areas were less likely to get screened for bowel cancer. Uptake in the most deprived areas was 45.6 per cent compared to least deprived areas at 63.3 per cent.

From 2019, Wales will replace the current screening test with a simpler and more accurate one called the Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), which is expected to increase the uptake of screening, but the committee were concerned that this test here was less sensitive than elsewhere in the UK.

The report also said that endoscopy units in Welsh hospitals are already struggling to cope with demand, and so even though the new screening test is a positive improvement, it could put more strain on an already overstretched service.

The Committee also heard that, despite additional funding from the Welsh Government over recent years, waiting times were still a cause for concern. Members said investment is needed to get waiting times under control, but there also needs to be a more sustainable approach.

Dai Lloyd AM, Chair of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee said:

“Endoscopy services in Wales are struggling and it is disappointing there has been little progress made in improving them since the report of the Welsh Government’s Endoscopy Task and Finish Group in 2014.

“The introduction of the FIT test is a positive step as we believe bowel screening significantly reduces the risk of a person dying from bowel cancer.

“While we accept demand has to be properly managed, we are disappointed that the thresholds for FIT testing are lower in Wales, and are concerned that without a clear plan to optimise the programme, Wales will fall further behind its counterparts in other parts of the UK.

“What is now needed is for significant progress and strong leadership to be shown by the Welsh Government to address the issues facing this important area of the Welsh health service.”

The Committee recommended that by October this year the Welsh Government should work with the National Endoscopy Improvement Programme to publish an action plan for improvement.


 

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