Delay in Diagnosis of Bowel Cancer due to NHS Understaffing

24 February 2020

Cancer Research UK estimate that 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK. The director of research and external affairs at Bowel Cancer UK, Dr Lisa Wilde, has stated that “Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer but it doesn’t need to be: it is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early.”


The Guardian recently reported that the NHS is failing to detect around 1,100 cases of bowel cancer each year in England due the fact that hospitals are short-staffed, with one in every ten specialist posts for radiographers, radiologists and endoscopists currently vacant.

The article also highlighted that in Scotland there is a lower threshold than in England for the faecal immunochemical test (FIT), which detects blood in stool and helps a doctor decide whether to refer a patient for a colonoscopy to see if they have bowel cancer. This means that people in Scotland are being referred at an earlier stage following bowel screening, ensuring that bowel cancer is detected sooner and more lives are saved.

It is concerning that the NHS in England seem to have adopted a harsher “cut-off point” for patient referrals in order to compensate for a lack of specialist staff. Whether you are tested for bowel cancer promptly should not be a postcode lottery.

Failing to refer a patient for diagnosis and treatment of cancer can have devastating consequences, including delaying their recovery, or in the worst case scenario, leading to a poorer long-term outcome. In particular, a cancer patient who is not diagnosed until a late stage may have been denied the opportunity to receive treatment which could have prolonged their life

Our medical negligence team have helped individuals who have lost the opportunity to have less invasive treatment because of a delay in diagnosis, as well as those who may not be able to have any viable treatment because the cancer has spread too far. We help and support these patients and their families in getting answers to their questions about their diagnosis and the difference made by a delay. If a delay has changed the options available, or has sadly lead to a reduction in life expectancy, we also help to secure compensation for any financial losses (such as loss of earnings) as well as any other costs which would not have arisen otherwise.

If you or someone you care about has been affected by a delay in diagnosis of cancer or any other medical condition, please contact us on 020 7814 1200, or email us at clinnegenquiries@kingsleynapley.co.uk

About the authors

Punam Sood is a Senior Associate in the Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury Department. She deals with all aspects of medical negligence claims, including birth injury and acquired brain injury claims, claims relating to fatal accidents, those involving gynaecological injuries following childbirth and those due to the delayed diagnosis of cancer.   

Eleanor Lynch is a trainee solicitor in the Medical Negligence and Personal Injury team, where she assists with claims relating to injuries arising from birth, fatal accidents, colorectal injuries and delayed diagnosis of cancer.

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