Numbers waiting over three months for cancer test at record levels

Irish Cancer Society calls for political action on lengthening colonoscopy lists

Private patients can get a colonoscopy done within 12 days, the society points out, thereby highlighting the gap in health services between those who can pay and those who cannot. File photograph: Thinkstock

Private patients can get a colonoscopy done within 12 days, the society points out, thereby highlighting the gap in health services between those who can pay and those who cannot. File photograph: Thinkstock

 

Over 4,300 people are waiting more than three months for a colonoscopy and are therefore at increased risk of an undetected cancer, new figures show.

The number of people waiting longer than the Government’s three-month target time has jumped almost 1,000 to record levels since the start of the year, according to the Irish Cancer Society.

It has called for political intervention to address the problem of growing waiting times before the problem worsens further.

Private patients can get a colonoscopy done within 12 days, the society points out, thereby highlighting the gap in health services between those who can pay and those who cannot.

“Colonoscopy waiting times have reached a critical point,” said its head of advocacy Donal Buggy. “This issue requires all parties to Programme for Government negotiations to commit to addressing waiting times for colonoscopies as an immediate priority.”

Currently, 44 per cent of patients on the list for the cancer test are waiting longer than three months. At two hospitals, over 75 per cent have been waiting for longer than three months, and at a further two hospitals, this figure exceeds 60 per cent.

Mr Buggy estimated that over 7,000 people could be waiting more than three months for a colonoscopy by the end of this year, if current trends continue. The ICS obtained the figures from the National Purchase Treatment Fund (NTPF).

“We acknowledge the efforts of the HSE in tackling waiting times, through external appointments at private facilities, but this only appears to have a short-term impact. An ambitious, long-term approach is needed to resolve the current situation, and we believe that political input is required to do so.”

At the end of 2015, the Health Service Executive (HSE), through the NTPF, arranged appointments in private hospitals for public patients waiting over 12 months for colonoscopy procedures. This helped reduce waiting times over 12 months to 114 at the end of December. However, since then this number has almost quadrupled to 544.

Up to this year, the HSE’s target was that 100 per cent of patients should have a colonoscopy performed within 13 weeks of referral by their GP. In the 2016 National Service Plan, this was revised downwards to 70 per cent

Mr. Buggy said: “No one should be waiting longer than three months for a colonoscopy. The stark reality is that we can expect some colorectal (bowel) cancers to be diagnosed when patients on waiting lists eventually receive their colonoscopy.”

Bowel (colorectal) cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in Ireland. Almost 2,500 Irish people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year.