1,000 living in fear of cancer as waiting list for test grows
MORE than 1,000 people living in fear of bowel cancer are waiting more than three months for a colonoscopy, new figures show.
The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) yesterday expressed concern that 1,073 people are now waiting for the diagnostic test. The waiting list has increased by 13pc since May, with 36 patients waiting a year or more.
Joan Kelly, nursing services manager with the ICS, urged patients who had been waiting longer than six weeks for a colonoscopy to contact their GP to expedite the process.
"If patients are waiting for longer than three months, it's important to know that you can contact the NTPF (National Treatment Purchase Fund) to discuss referral for a colonoscopy to a private hospital free of charge," she said.
"If you are concerned about bowel cancer, you can also speak in confidence with a specialist cancer nurse by calling the Irish Cancer Society's national cancer helpline."
Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death, after lung cancer.
In 2008, there were 2,216 new cases diagnosed and 966 deaths. More than 50pc of patients in Ireland are diagnosed with stage 3 or 4 bowel cancer -- the most advanced stage. Fewer than 5pc of those with stage 4 survive for longer than five years.
Of those on the waiting list, 818 are waiting three to six months, 219 are waiting six months to a year, while the remaining 36 are waiting at least a year.
Fine Gael senator Frances Fitzgerald described the figures as "extremely serious".
She criticised Health Minister Mary Harney for making empty promises after the death of Susie Long -- who died of bowel cancer in October 2007 after waiting seven months for a colonoscopy. Ms Harney promised that patients would not wait more than one month for colonoscopy referrals.
Ms Fitzgerald said it must be remembered that, whether routine or urgent, "some of the patients awaiting these tests may be facing a cancer diagnosis so time is absolutely of the essence".
Warning signs for bowel cancer include a change in bowel habits lasting more than a month; anal bleeding; a regular feeling of trapped wind or fullness in the stomach area; and weight loss and tiredness.
Kathleen O'Meara, head of advocacy and communications at the ICS, said hospitals and patients were not using the NTPF to clear their backlog.
"It is important that hospitals, and indeed patients themselves, are aware that the NTPF service is available," she said.
In a statement, the HSE said it now conducts a weekly audit of urgent patients awaiting colonoscopy examination in order to reduce the wait times.
In October 2009, 363 people were waiting longer than the four-week target for urgent referrals, but the HSE said this figure had reduced month-on-month and in May of this year there were 44 patients waiting more than four weeks.