Lack of funding blamed for delay to bowel cancer screening programme

In collaboration with the Press Association

A leading UK bowel cancer expert has claimed that the government will not meet its target of initiating a national bowel cancer screening programme in April, and says the delays are due to an NHS "financial crisis". An editorial in the British Medical Journal, written by Professor Wendy Atkin of the Cancer Research UK Colorectal Cancer Unit, said the April deadline cannot be met because it will take around six months to commission the screening centres and no funding has yet been provided.

In 2004 the government committed to providing million over two years for a screening programme to begin in April this year.

Bowel cancer is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer deaths in the United Kingdom.

Professor Alex Markham, Cancer Research UK's CEO, said: "The programme is supposed to start in ten days. Despite constant reassurances, not a penny is in place to set it up.

"This is unacceptable. Delay will lead to people dying unnecessarily." The trial was planned to extend a successful, ongoing pilot programme in the West Midlands to the rest of the country in phases, resulting in complete coverage of the English population by 2010. Initially only men and women in the 60 to 69 age group were to be offered screening so that the NHS could gradually build-up screening resources.

The journal points out that it is not clear whether the delay is a "temporary hiccough or a shelving of the programme". It concludes by saying that there is still time to introduce the programme in 2006 but that "the government's short term financial difficulties should not be permitted to erode national confidence in its commitment to tackling bowel cancer death rates".