There has been sharp rise since the end of last year in the number of public patients waiting over three months for colonoscopies, according to latest figures.
According to the Department of Health’s National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), there were only 24 patients awaiting a ‘non urgent’ colonoscopy for longer than three months at the end of December last.
However, this figure rose to 357 at the end of February and to 468 at the end of March.
Commenting on the figures, the Irish Cancer Society pointed out that despite the recent rise in numbers waiting over three months for colonoscopies, waiting list numbers had fallen from 2,258 in April of last year, and this reduction was welcome.
However, the Society told irishhealth.com it would continue to monitor the situation as the number of people waiting more than three months for a colonoscopy had recently risen.
“It is important that the numbers waiting for a colonoscopy continue to fall given that BowelScreen, the national bowel cancer screening programme has begun and will result in an increased demand for colonoscopies.”
Health Minister James Reilly’s Special Delivery Unit (SDU) has since last year been undertaking an initiative to reduce numbers waiting for colonoscopies and upper GI endoscopies.
A colonoscopy is often used to check for possible bowel cancer. ‘Urgent’ bowel tests are usually carried out in hospitalswithin 28 days.
However, the Irish Cancer Society says it remains concerned at the Department of Health’s classification of patients waiting for a colonoscopy as either ‘urgent’ or ‘non-urgent’, and it believes there there should be no such distinction made.
“Some patients have obvious symptoms but many do not, and by classifying people by perceived urgency, some cases considered to be ‘non-urgent’ will be diagnosed with bowel cancer at a later stage.” the Society pointed out.
It says anyone who has been waiting longer than six weeks for a colonoscopy in a public hospital should contact their GP to see if they can schedule a procedure as soon as possible.
Patients currently on colonoscopy waiting lists represent those who have presented to their GPs with concerns about bowel symptoms they wish to get checked out in hospital with a colonoscopy.
The new national screening programme, on the other hand, targets all men and women in the population aged 60-69 through a home test kit known as the faecal immunochemical test (FIT). Where blood is found in the home test stool sample, a colonoscopy is performed as part of the BowelScreen programme.
Eventually, the BowelScreen programme will be targeted at all people in the 55-74 age group.
The number of people with bowel cancer in Ireland is expected to increase by 45% in men and 34% in women by 2020.
Meanwhile, a new report from the National Cancer Registry has shown that colorectal cancer was the third leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung and breast cancer, and the second leading cause of death in men, after lung cancer, during the period 2007-2009.
Around 950 women and 1,330 men were diagnosed with colo-rectal cancer annually during 2007-2009. Nearly 1,000 men and women died from colo-rectal cancer in 2008.
However, according to the Cancer Registry, the death rate from bowel cancer has been falling but there has been an increase recorded in the numbers dying in the subset of rectal, as opposed to colon cancers.
Find out more about colo-rectal cancer here