Government guilty of betrayal over bowel cancer screening

Cancer Research UK

The Government’s deliberate fudge over its commitment to a bowel screening programme is a gross betrayal of trust and will cost lives according to Cancer Research UK.

The Government has now admitted that four of the five screening programme ‘hubs’ have not yet been selected. None of the home testing kits needed for the programme has even been ordered, and the Government has failed to confirm full funding for the programme.

In August last year the Department of Health pledged to roll out a programme for all 60-69 year olds that would begin next week.

So far not a single new centre has been set up to carry out this promise.

In a response to parliamentary questions about the programme, health minister Rosie Winterton identifies only one 'expected' hub - an existing pilot site in Rugby which has actually been operating since 2000.

Those eligible to be screened should be receiving home testing kits from April this year.

“The Government has reneged on its promise over this,” said Cancer Research UK’s chief executive Professor Alex Markham. “To claim the programme is going ahead as planned is a distortion of the truth.

“The Government has fudged the issue and now says it ‘hopes’ the centres should be established by March 2007. Last year it pledged that it would start the scheme next week. This is a gross betrayal of trust and lives will be lost as a result of this vacillating behaviour.”

Last year the Government pledged that the scheme would cover 25 per cent of the 4.5 million people eligible for screening within a year.

But in this week’s British Medical Journal an editorial by Professor Wendy Atkin of the Cancer Research UK Colorectal Cancer Unit points out that it takes at least six months to set up the screening centres and no money has yet been put in place to do that.

Announcing the scheme last year health minister Rosie Winterton said: “Preventing cancer and improving services for those who develop the disease is a priority for the Government.” Professor Markham added: “We know the NHS is suffering from a financial crisis. But by delaying bowel screening it has its priorities wrong. 16,000 people die from bowel cancer each year. This programme was designed to help cut mortality through early detection of the disease. A 12 month delay means lives will be lost needlessly.”

  • In a letter sent today (Wednesday) to Rosie Winterton, Professor Markham, together with the chief executives of two bowel cancer charities, has asked the following questions. * Is the two-year £37.5 million funding package for the roll-out of screening, which has previously been publicly committed, still available?
  • If there is to be a reduction in funding, what reasoning underpins this? Where will economies be found and what impact will this have on the projected number of people who will be screening in the first two years of the programme.
  • How many people do you now envisage will be screened in the financial year 2006-7 over and above those who were screened in 2005-6 as part of the Rugby pilot.

ENDS

For press enquiries please contact Sally Staples or Nick Stewart in the press office on 020 7061 8300, or the out of hours press officer on 0705 264059

Notes to Editor

Answers to John Baron MP’s parliamentary questions on the bowel cancer screening programme are available on the parliament website.

(Official Report, 27.03.2006, column 780W)

The Department of Health’s August 2005 press release confirming the programme’s April 2006 roll-out is available on the Department Of Health website.

The screening programme ‘hubs’ will incorporate testing laboratories. The hubs will invite people to be screened and analyse the home testing kits