Government challenged over bowel cancer screening programme

Cancer Research UK

Britain's leading cancer charity today called for the government to come clean over the future of its much-vaunted bowel screening programme.

Responding to an editorial in the British Medical Journal, Cancer Research UK';s chief executive, Professor Alex Markham, accused the Department of Health of “unacceptable prevarication” and said he feared the programme, which is designed to cut bowel cancer mortality, was under serious threat.

The programme was scheduled to be rolled out in April this year, but so far no resources have been put in place to make it happen.

In an editorial published online at bmj.com today (Wednesday 22 March 2006) Professor Wendy Atkin of the Cancer Research UK Colorectal Cancer Unit says that while the NHS financial crisis is clearly the cause of the programme';s delay, it is still unclear whether this is a temporary hiccough or a shelving of the programme. She warns of dire consequences if the Government reneges on its commitment to the programme.

Cancer Research UK';s chief executive Professor Alex Markham said: “The government';s much heralded bowel screening programme was supposed to start in the next ten days and was set to cut deaths from bowel cancer. But despite constant reassurances that this vital initiative was on schedule not a penny has been put in place to set up the necessary screening centres for the programme to be rolled out as planned.

“This prevarication from the Department of Health is completely unacceptable and continuing delay will lead to people dying unnecessarily from bowel cancer.”

The full editorial is available at the BMJ website.

ENDS

For media enquiries, please contact Nick Stewart in the press office on 020 7061 8317 or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.

Notes to Editor

Several randomised trials and a Cochrane review have demonstrated that offering screening for bowel cancer - using the faecal occult blood (FOB) test every 2 years to men and women aged between 50 and 69 years - reduces bowel cancer mortality by about 16 per cent.