Keith Austin, chief executive and founder of mobile medical solutions provider, EMS Healthcare, discusses how NHS trusts are addressing new challenges brought about by the lowering of the bowel cancer screening age
Each year, almost 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer, making it the fourth-most-common cancer in the UK.
Around 16,000 lives are lost to the disease each year, although this number has been falling since the 1970s thanks to earlier diagnosis and improved treatment.
Just over a year ago, a petition signed by over half a million people to lower bowel screenings from 60 to 50 was successfully implemented, with ministers accepting the findings of a formal review.
Undergoing a bowel cancer screening is an unnerving time for many patients, so providing an accessible, modern and comfortable environment for this to take place will undoubtedly alleviate some of their anxieties
Now there are calls to reduce this screening age even further, as research published just last week revealed that bowel cancer rates are rising among people in as low as their 20s.
What this much-needed lowering of the screening age has meant is even-greater demand on our public health service for quality endoscopy and pathology services.
According to Bowel Cancer UK, demand for gastrointestinal endoscopy is set to exceed 2.4 million procedures a year by 2019/20 – and that is without taking into account another potential lowering of the screening age.
This is having a direct impact on waiting times, with many people waiting too long between referral and tests.
Without the adequate capacity to meet the sudden jump in demand, patients face considerable delays to accessing potentially life-saving diagnostic tests.
Bowel Cancer UK is spearheading a campaign calling on the Government to address the current capacity crisis, handing an open letter to the Secretary for Health and Social care with over 7,000 signatures – an indicator of the scale of the issues at hand.
Most endoscopy units currently in use were built many years ago, when cleaning, decontamination, high-level disinfection and storage requirements differed significantly
Not only is there a lack of capacity, but there is a considerable variation in the quality of endoscopy services across the UK.
Most endoscopy units currently in use were built many years ago, when cleaning, decontamination, high-level disinfection and storage requirements differed significantly.
As such, they do not meet the quality standards set out by the Joint Advisory Group for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (JAG), which are critical to providing an adequate service for patients.
Ensuring these services are of the highest quality is imperative to counteracting this disease and, most importantly, saving lives.
To raise the availability and quality of service, we are now seeing NHS trusts take a more-proactive approach by partnering with innovators in the industry.
It’s all about getting the experts around the table and finding the correct solutions to the challenges currently being faced.
With the most-recent NHS Long-Term Plan, there were promising indicators of this beginning to happen.
It included a pledge to utilise more mobile medical units – an important step forward, as it is a move away from using inefficient and expensive external services that were previously seen as a quick-fix solution.
The truth of the matter is that early detection greatly improves survival rates and NHS trusts which embrace innovation in the hospital estate are already seeing strong results
The flexibility of these mobile units means an increase in demand can be far more easily dealt with, without comprising on quality of care.
In the case of endoscopy services, getting all of the elements right is highly complex, from the patient flow and staffing to having an efficient reprocessing system – the process has a number of moving parts.
Facilities that can provide a ‘one-stop-shop’ are set to prove the game-changers.
Undergoing a bowel cancer screening is an unnerving time for many patients, so providing an accessible, modern and comfortable environment for this to take place will undoubtedly alleviate some of their anxieties.
The flexibility of mobile units means an increase in demand can be far more easily dealt with, without comprising on quality of care
With the lowering of the screening age, it is an opportune moment to build on the progress that has already been made in bowel cancel treatment.
The truth of the matter is that early detection greatly improves survival rates and NHS trusts which embrace innovation in the hospital estate are already seeing strong results from this approach.
Now’s the time to see this replicated consistently across the UK.