Invest in workforce to roll out bowel cancer screening, urges former health secretary .

Pathology

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Andrew Lansley reveals he has stage 3 disease for which he is currently being treated

Caroline White

Wednesday, 04 April 2018

Former heath secretary Andrew Lansley, the architect of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, has revealed that he has bowel cancer, the fourth most common cause of cancer in the UK.

The revelation, which has been timed to coincide with the start of bowel cancer awareness month this April, has been given added impetus by Lord Lansley’s belief that his disease might have been picked up earlier had a pilot national screening programme that he introduced been rolled out nationwide.

In an article about his experiences published in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, Lord Lansley explains that his stage three tumours were only discovered after his wife urged him to see a GP because of spreading back pain.

As the health secretary for two years under David Cameron, Lord Lansley launched a pilot screening programme called ‘bowelscope’, which involves a one-off flexible sigmoidoscopy at age 55 for people living in England in 2010, with the aim of saving 3000 lives every year.

The programme was due to be fully rolled out nationally by the end of 2016. But it is currently only available to around half the population, due in part to a shortage of endoscopists and support staff as a result of cuts to the Health Education England budget, he says.

In November 2017, NHS England confirmed plans to introduce a new bowel cancer screening test, Faecal Immunochemical Test or FIT, which will replace the Faecal Occult Blood (FOB) test at the age of 60, which Lansley describes as ‘blunt’ and missing ‘too many cases.’

FIT has the potential to detect many more cases, and earlier. But the nationwide roll-out of this test, which was due this month, has also been significantly delayed, prompting the former health secretary to call for “upfront investment in the pathology and endoscopy workforce” as a matter of urgency.

Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer commented: "We are very grateful to Lord Lansley for sharing his own personal story to raise awareness of bowel cancer during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. Bowel cancer is preventable, treatable and curable, but early diagnosis is key.

“As Lord Lansley rightly highlights, we need to urgently invest in both the endoscopy and pathology workforce to ensure we can deliver an optimal bowel cancer screening programme as this has been shown to be the best method of detecting bowel cancer early.

Implementation of the new FIT, which had been due to roll out this April, must be a priority for the government, she insisted.

“Each month we delay implementation, more people are put at risk of a late diagnosis making their chance of long-term survival harder. This is not acceptable and needs to be addressed."