King’s College and Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trusts are two of the worst in London for breaching life-saving bowel cancer test waiting times, new NHS data reveals.
The figures from August 2018, the most recent published by the NHS, released on Thursday, October 11, show that King’s College Foundation NHS Trust has the second highest percentage of patients waiting more than six weeks for a colonoscopy at its Princess Royal University Hospital site out of all London’s hospitals.
King’s also has the second highest percentage of patients waiting six weeks or more for a flexible sigmoidoscopy test, followed by Greenwich and Lewisham NHS Trust in third place. These tests are known as endoscopy procedures and can detect cancer at the earliest stage of the disease, when it is more treatable.
Both trusts have said they are taking steps to address the issue.
Data shows waiting times for any non-urgent referrals where cancer is not suspected by a GP but could be the cause of any symptoms.
Under NHS rules, patients should not wait more than six weeks for colonoscopies, but according to the figures from August of this year, nearly 30 hospitals in London are missing these targets.
This means more than half of patients (65 per cent) are left waiting for more than six weeks for a procedure that could catch cancer early and ultimately save their life.
Fifty-eight-year-old Jill Rutter (pictured) was treated at King’s, Lewisham and Greenwich, and Guy’s and St Thomas’ after being diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2009, when she was aged 49.
The charity worker, who has lived in Forest Hill for 20 years, said that although her treatment and the support offered – especially at Lewisham and Greenwich – was ‘fantastic’, getting there involved a long wait from first visiting her GP to having the endoscopy.
“I needed to go to the loo more often but was not taken seriously.
“I just gave up. I was being hypochondriac, and was I was told it was IBS and I was too young for bowel cancer.
“It was only when I had a haemorrhage that I went back the doctor and they took a blood and stool sample.
“I was referred for an endoscopy in September but it took a two-and-a-half month wait.
“Then I had stage three bowel cancer diagnosed.
“That wait could have cost me my life – and as I was too young it would not have been picked up in screening.
Jill went onto have two rounds of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and two lots of surgery.
She is now in remission but will have to be checked every five years to make sure the cancer has not come back.
On hearing that nearly ten years after her experience, hospitals in south London are missing waiting time targets, she said: “It is shocking. Getting treatment early is one of the most important factors that determines whether you will be cured like me or whether you will succumb to cancer.
“Whatever your age, if you are worried go back to your GP and take a friend. This cancer is curable if it is caught early.”
According to the charity Bowel Cancer UK, more than half of bowel cancer patients are diagnosed by a test after being referred by their GP.
Data shows that 323 patients, nearly 44 per cent of those on the list, waited six weeks or more for a colonoscopy at King’s College NHS Trust’s Princess Royal University Hospital.
The only NHS trust in London with worse figures was at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, where 328 people, or around 56 per cent of patients, were seen six weeks after their referral.
Barking, Havering and Redbridge topped the number of people waiting too long for flexi-sigmodioscopies too, with 140 people, around 65 per cent of patients on its list, waiting more than six weeks.
This was followed by King’s College NHS Trust, with 71 patients (or 39 per cent) and then Lewisham and Greenwich (with five patients out of 32) left waiting beyond six weeks for the procedure.
Asha Kaur, head of policy and campaigns at Bowel Cancer UK, says: “These waiting time figures present a worrying picture for patients and demonstrate the urgent need for the Government to make addressing this capacity crisis a national priority.
“If hospitals are expected to meet waiting time targets then they must be given the resources and capacity to enable them to meet these standards.”
The charity is now calling on the government to invest more into hospitals’ diagnostics departments.
A spokesperson for King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “We have seen very high demand for our routine colonoscopy service at the Princess Royal University Hospital (PRUH).
“Therefore, we have taken a number of steps to reduce waiting times, which include expanding the service to seven days a week.
“Additionally, we have plans to bring in extra staff to help manage demand.
“With urgent cases, 95 percent of suspected cancer patients requiring a colonoscopy are seen within two weeks, in line with Government targets.”
A spokesperson for Lewisham and Greenwich Trust said: “The vast majority of patients waiting for a flexi-sigmoidoscopy diagnostic test are seen within six weeks.
“We want to ensure that all patients waiting for this test are seen within six weeks, so we are looking to increase capacity at both of our hospitals to cope with the growing levels of demand.”
About bowel cancer – advice from Bowel Cancer UK
- Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer, affecting both men and women
- Every 15 minutes in the UK someone is diagnosed with bowel cancer
- That’s 41,200 people every year
- Bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early
- Nearly everyone diagnosed at the earliest stage will survive bowel cancer
- However, this drops significantly as the disease develops
- Early diagnosis really does save lives
Symptoms of bowel cancer include:
- Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
- A change in bowel habit lasting three weeks or more
- Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
- Unexplained weight loss
- A pain or lump in your tummy