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Half of endoscopies not needed

As many as half of patients on waiting lists for endoscopy no longer need the examination by the time it comes around, an audit reveals.

The study came as the Healthcare Commission reiterated the need to ease pressure on endoscopy services with a report warning of 'unacceptable delays'

Researchers found GP reassessment of patient records midway through a three-month waiting period dramatically cut numbers needing endoscopy.

A total of 328 patients out of 677 were taken off the waiting list because they had recovered from their symptoms or no longer wanted the investigation. The audit, conducted at Bath and North-East Somerset PCT, saved £154,100.

Dr Peter Marden, a researcher on the study and a registrar in gastroenterology at Royal United Hospital in Bath, said: 'The benefits are huge, and resources can be used to develop services rather than keep a lid on a can of worms.'

Dr Richard Stevens, chair of the Primary Care Society For Gastroenterology and a GP in Oxford, said: 'It would seem if you can save money, complications and a patient having something unpleasant, it's got to be a good thing, as long as patients aren't being denied care.'

GPs in Bath revalidated the need for a colonoscopy by reviewing patients' clinical re-cords, contacting the patient by phone or seeing them in the clinic. All practices in the PCT participated, and no cost was charged by GPs for conducting the revalidation.

Results were presented at the British Society of Gastroenterology conference this week. Cancer specialists warned two weeks ago that bowel cancer screening would ratchet up pressure on endoscopy.Services are already stretched in some areas.

The Healthcare Commission this week reported that in December 2006, 50 per cent of patients requiring a colonoscopy in the South-East had been on a waiting list for more than 26 weeks, compared with less than 0.2 per cent in the North-East and Yorkshire.

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