Investment in local bowel cancer screening programmes can make a real difference. Evidence from Beating Bowel Cancer shows that, when diagnosis is made early, bowel cancer can be cured in over 90 per cent of cases.
The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme for 60-69 year olds was rolled out between July 2006 and December 2010, in which time over 7,000 cancers were detected. The programme has been extended to men and women aged up to 74 and those over 74 can self-refer for screening every two years if they wish.
Bowel Scope Screening (BSS), an additional one-off examination for men and women aged 55, is being rolled out across the country. However, I am aware that current guidance from NHS England states that BSS may not be offered in certain areas of England.
I agree that early diagnosis is critical to improving cancer survival. The UK National Screening Committee previously recommended that faecal occult blood testing should be extended to those aged 50 to 74. I understand the disappointment felt by many that the government has not accepted this recommendation. Indeed, an online petition calling on the Department of Health to lower the screening age to 50 has been signed by more than 390,000 people.
In January 2016, the UK National Screening Committee recommended that the use of Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) should replace the Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) because it is more reliable, can detect cancers at an earlier stage, and encourages greater participation in screening. The government has confirmed that this transition is due to take place in April 2018.
At the General Election, I stood on a manifesto which pledged to tackle the rationing of services across England, and to take action to address ‘postcode lotteries’ to ensure that the quality of care an individual receives does not depend on which part of the country they live in.