Dear Chancellor and Health Secretary,
We are writing to express our concerns regarding the growing capacity crisis within diagnostic services for bowel cancer and to call on you to work together to ensure NHS hospitals have the staff needed to carry out these life-saving tests.
It is vital that a plan is put in place that sets out how these staff shortages can be addressed. This must be accompanied with the necessary funding. The development and publication of the new NHS 10 Year Plan and the upcoming autumn budget in November is your opportunity to address these issues.
Timely access to diagnostic tests for bowel cancer is key to either preventing the disease or to giving people an opportunity for an earlier diagnosis when it is more treatable and even curable. But demand for these tests is growing rapidly with at least a million more needed year on year. This is putting endoscopy and pathology services under unprecedented pressure because there simply aren’t enough staff to deal with this demand. The current Government initiative to train 400 clinical endoscopists is not enough to plug the gap and as of May 2018, just 130 have been recruited. With NHS hospitals struggling to cope, thousands of patients are waiting longer for potentially lifesaving tests, in fact around half of NHS hospitals in England are now breaching waiting time targets for diagnostic tests and many are relying on expensive external providers.
Unfortunately, the current workforce shortage represents the single biggest barrier to delivering world-class cancer care for bowel cancer patients. For example, the optimal bowel cancer screening programme which the Government has committed to, using the simpler and more accurate screening test (the faecal immunochemical test) at a sensitivity level of 20ug/g for people aged 50-74 has the potential to detect twice as many cancers and four times as many pre-cancerous adenomas. But this would have a significant impact on both colonoscopy and pathology services and has meant the introduction of the new test has been significantly delayed as the workforce is not in place to deliver it sustainably.
That’s why we urgently need a fully funded action plan to address these issues. This must be comprehensive and set out clear recommendations that address current workforce shortages and allow for future growth. We urge the Chancellor to ensure that funding is made available to deliver this plan in the forthcoming spending review, including ensuring Health Education England’s budget is increased so staff can be recruited and trained.
We strongly believe that a fully funded action plan is essential to transforming diagnostic services, so more bowel cancers can be prevented or diagnosed early. This would ensure that in future bowel cancer is no longer the UKs second biggest cause of cancer related death. You can make this a reality, so we urge you to take action today to address this critical workforce capacity gap.