Concern over endoscopy waiting timesPatients in the south east facing longest waits

26 March 2007

Some patients are having to wait more than a year for a routine endoscopy, the health watchdog said today.

A Healthcare Commission study found wide variations around the country, with some patients seen within four weeks and others waiting months.

Patients in the south east of England face some of the longest waits.

Delays are happening despite the government setting a target due to be achieved this month of all diagnostic tests being carried out within 13 weeks of referral.

Today's report also highlights concerns about the quality of care for patients undergoing the probe, which is used to detect conditions like bowel cancer and stomach ulcers.

Colonoscopy

These include older patients being too heavily sedated in 50 per cent of endoscopy units and many patients not being asked to sign consent forms.

The study found that half of patients in the south east had been waiting for more than 26 weeks for a colonoscopy, which examines the lower bowel.

Meanwhile, fewer than 0.2 per cent of patients in the north east waited that long for the same procedure.

Patient care

The Commission predicted about 30 NHS trusts will ‘fail significantly’ to meet the government's target this month and one in five patients will still be waiting more than 13 weeks.

Concerns over patient care include some units using outdated equipment and not having enough toilet facilities.

A ‘worrying’ 45 per cent of trusts did not even monitor whether colonoscopies succeed in examining the target area of the bowel.

‘Improve performance’

Anna Walker, Chief Executive of the Healthcare Commission, said: ‘Most endoscopy units are to be congratulated on the progress that they have made in reducing waiting times and on the quality of care that they provide.

‘However, it is unacceptable that patients in some parts of the country have to wait so much longer than in other regions.

‘It is also unacceptable that so many endoscopy units are not monitoring whether procedures have successfully viewed the target area.

‘Clearly patients don't want to go through an uncomfortable examination only to find that it has not been a success. Trusts need to be monitoring success rates for endoscopy, and, where necessary, take steps to improve performance.’

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