Gale's View - A Matter of Life and Death (April 27th 2009)
I learned, early in March, that North Thanet has the sixth highest number of deaths from bowel cancer amongst all parliamentary constituencies in the country. That is unacceptable and I wanted to know why.
In response to my enquiries of the Hospitals Trust and the Primary Care Trust the Chief Executive of the former told me that the waiting time for endoscopy, the diagnostic procedure that identifies bowel cancer, had been reduced to below the national target of six weeks and that within the next twelve months that time would be reduced to two weeks. The Hospital Trust has also been granted Bowel Cancer Screening status, enabling East Kent's hospitals to introduce a service that will detect cancers before a patient develops symptoms and while it can still be completely cured. The screening programme began on the first of this month.
The Chief Executive of the Primary Care Trust then replied to me adding that patients aged between 60 and 69 will be contacted and invited to provide a sample for screening. This programme will be rolled out to all eligible patients over the next three years.
I am also told - and this is my reason for covering this issue publicly - that response to the screening programmes nationally has been poor. Which is sad and surprising given that we are talking about a matter that can mean the difference between life and premature and painful death.
I next asked the Chief Executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, Hilary Whittaker, who first drew my attention to the East Kent figures, for her comments. She said:
"Too few people are aware of just how common and serious bowel cancer is and the symptoms to look out for. This lack of awareness is costing thousands of lives every year. If caught early enough bowel cancer is curable so we urge all those who are requested to participate in the screening programme to return their completed kits and we encourage those over 70 to request the screening kit to which they are entitled. ( A call to 08450 719300 will secure free information booklets or a conversation with a nurse advisor). We are also calling on the Government to extend screening to 50-59 year olds. "
Bowel Cancer is the second biggest cause of cancer deaths after lung cancer. Cases among those aged under 30 have risen by a staggering 117% between 1997 and 2006. Every single day 100 people will be diagnosed and half of those will die of the disease.
I am promoting Beating Bowel Cancer's campaign because I believe that many deaths can, in East Kent, be avoided. But that does mean that those at risk and those who know and care about someone who is at risk must take advantage of the screening programme. Not bothering will not save anyone.