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Bowel Ca screening 'will swamp NHS'

The Government's planned bowel cancer screening programme will swamp the NHS unless shortfalls in funding and training are urgently

addressed, warn leading researchers.

There is overwhelming support for bowel screening, but services are inadequate to cope, Dr Wendy Atkin, senior researcher in the Cancer Research UK colorectal cancer unit, told a conference last week.

There are already waiting lists for endoscopy, as GPs meet the two-week target for referring patients with suspected bowel cancer.

Dr Atkin warned services would come under further pressure whether faecal occult blood testing or flexible sigmoidoscopy is chosen for screening.

The Government has pledged to roll out a national screening programme and advisers are due to make a preliminary recommendation on which screening tool should be used this autumn.

Speaking at the Cancer Research UK senior researchers meeting in Harrogate, Dr Atkin said: 'I personally believe this is an ideal disease to screen for. We spend a huge amount on treating this disease – there must be better ways of spending this money.'

In a recent study Dr Atkin, who is leading the trial to assess the effectiveness of flexible sigmoidoscopy as a screening tool, found wide variations in adenoma detection rates between endoscopists with similar experiences.

She stressed that as well as training sufficient numbers of staff, experienced endoscopists would need extra training to meet the demands of a screening programme.

Dr Atkin has suggested once-in-a-lifetime sigmoido-scopy at 60 years, perhaps supplemented by faecal occult blood testing in older adults, might be the most feasible option for screening.

Dr Richard Stevens, chair of the Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology and a GP in Oxford, was delighted the Government was piloting screening, but a national roll-out should begin immediately.

'I believe there's enough evidence to show that lives can be saved using current knowledge and I would like to see the framework of the screening programme put in place,' he said.

By Emma Wilkinson

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