bowel cancer screening
April 28, 2019

Almost 1 in 2 public patients waiting over 3 months for a colonoscopy

Irish Cancer Society calls for ‘urgent action’ to reduce wait times
Sunday, 28 April 2019: The Irish Cancer Society has today expressed concern at the long wait times many people are facing for bowel cancer tests. At the end of March 2019, there were 5,371 people waiting longer than 3 months for a colonoscopy. The HSE target is that 70% of people waiting for a routine colonoscopy are seen within 3 months. The Society says that no patients should be waiting longer than 3 months. 

Long wait times are causing patients distress, and can lead to delayed cancer diagnoses, according to the Society.

Donal Buggy, Head of Services at the Irish Cancer Society said: “It is shocking that nearly half of all people waiting for a colonoscopy have been doing so for over 3 months. Unfortunately, some of these people will go on to have a cancer diagnosis. It is crucially important that people are diagnosed early to make sure they have the best chance of survival.”

“The emotional impact of waiting months for this common procedure can be very distressing, but bowel cancer is often very treatable if caught early.”

“At the moment we are running to stand still. The number of people being referred for colonoscopies is growing every year, and urgent action must be taken to drastically reduce waiting times. The Government has to provide adequate funding for a strategic endoscopy plan, greater investment in workforce planning to deal with growing demand and hospitals must find more capacity to deal with waiting lists in their network.”

“If this does not happen, some cancers may be diagnosed late, and the extension of BowelScreen to all people aged 55-74 will not happen.”

“Efforts have been made by the Department of Health and the HSE to address wait times, including development of GP referral guidelines and the purchase of additional private appointments for long-waiters, but progress to date has been slow.”

Dr Orlaith Kelly, Consultant Gastroenterologist said: “What we’re seeing is an acute lack of endoscopists across Irish hospitals which has become unsustainable. This is a big part of the problem and unfortunately some patients will bear the brunt through delayed diagnoses.”

“It can take up to a year for a new consultant or advanced nurse practitioner post to be approved, even with proven clinical need and management support, so it’s vitally important that Government plans for future service demand now.”

The Irish Cancer Society is highlighting colonoscopy waiting times as part of Bowel Cancer Awareness month in April. This year it is estimated that up to 2,800 people will be diagnosed with bowel cancer, and more than 1,000 people will die from it.1
The Irish Cancer Society is encouraging anyone who has been affected by long wait times to call the Society’s Cancer Nurseline on Freephone 1800 200 700.