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Bowel cancer screening rollout 'hampered by capacity issues'

Exclusive The rollout of the bowel cancer screening programme to older patients is being hampered in some areas by a lack of secondary care capacity, Pulse has learned.

The previous Government announced in April 2010 that as part of the cancer reform strategy, the NHS bowel cancer screening programme would be extended in order to widen the age range for screening and invite men and women to participate up to their 75th birthday.

In January last year a wave of early implementers began to offer bowel cancer screening to patients to patients aged 70 to 74, in addition to those aged 60 to 69, and from April 2010, a full rollout of services to the extended population officially began.

But Pulse has learned that capacity planning issues and a lack of access to endoscopy and colonoscopy in secondary care in some areas is leading to unequal provision of bowel cancer screening – for patients of all ages.

Overall, unofficial estimates suggest the rollout of the full bowel cancer screening programme to all patients up to aged 74 is currently at a little over 50%.

Professor Julietta Patnick, the director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, urged GPs to encourage older patients to request their own faecal occult blood testing kits even if services had not been rolled out locally.

‘The bowel cancer screening programme for men and women aged between 60 and 69 is fully rolled out.'

‘But we are currently working on extending the age range over which people are invited up to 74 years of age, and this will be fully rolled out by 2014.'

‘Screening up to age 74 is already available in about half of the country, but even if the extension hasn't happened yet in your area, patients aged 70 years or over who want to be screened can request a FOBt kit.'

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