New screening delayedNHS cash shortages may delay cancer screening

23 March 2006

Cash problems in the NHS could delay a new screening programme for bowel cancer, doctors and charities have warned.

Of all cancers, bowel cancer is the second biggest killer in the UK after lung cancer but the British Medical Journal (BMJ) says no funding has been put in place for for the screening programme, which is due to launch in England in April. In 2004, 16,148 people died from bowel cancer.

The BMJ said: 'Five-year survival rates for bowel cancer, although increasing, remain below 50 per cent.

Diagnosing bowel cancer early

'The government has introduced ambitious targets for maximum waiting times of 18 weeks for diagnosis and treatment of cancer. But the most effective way to improve survival is to diagnose bowel cancer while the disease is still asymptomatic, which is possible by screening the general population.'

Cancer Research UK has also accused the Department of Health of 'unacceptable prevarication' that could lead to unnecessary deaths.

Its Chief Executive, Professor Alex Markham, said he feared the programme was under serious threat.

'The government's much-heralded bowel screening programme was supposed to start in the next ten days and was set to cut deaths from bowel cancer. This prevarication from the Department of Health is completely unacceptable and continuing delay will lead to people dying unnecessarily from bowel cancer.'

Screening due to start in April

Last August, the government announced that the programme would be phased in from April, with men and women aged between 60 and 69 screened every two years.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: 'The government has stated its commitment to a national bowel cancer screening programme. Budgets for 2006-07 are currently under consideration by the Department of Health and resolution is expected by the end of March 2006.'

Ian Beaumont, from Bowel Cancer UK, said the charity was warned the scheme may not go ahead in December. He called on the government to end the 'period of uncertainty and distress' by confirming details of funding for the programme.

Which? reports on the concerns in our April issue.