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Bowel screening numbers plummet in pandemic

Bowel screening numbers plummet in pandemic

Tuesday 20 July 2021

Bowel screening numbers plummet in pandemic


The number of people being screened for bowel cancer has plummeted during the pandemic - but Health hopes that a new home-test kit will increase uptake to pre-covid levels.

In 2019, 592 people were screened for bowel cancer but in 2020 this dropped to 270 – a 54% decrease. In the first six months of this year, just 82 have been screened for this type of cancer.

Compared to the first half of 2019, that’s a 73% drop, and a 41% fall on the first six months of last year.

In Jersey and internationally, clinicians, politicians and charities have warned of the long-term impact of the pandemic, in relation to delayed or cancelled screenings, surgeries and other non-covid-related appointments. 

Bowel screening in Jersey has been particularly affected because the procedure is invasive, which requires patients to self-isolate beforehand.

That, however, could change in the autumn.

Health Minister Richard Renouf said: “The bowel screening programme in Jersey to date has been a flexible sigmoidoscopy, which is offered to members of the public in their 60th year. 

“This is an invasive procedure that requires significant preparation on the part of the patient and, post-covid, patients were also asked to self-isolate prior to this in keeping with other planned procedures. 

“As we emerged from the first wave of covid, screening endoscopy sessions recommenced, but at a lesser capacity due to impact of infection control measures to reduce transmission of covid and the required time therefore in between patients. 

“Many patients who were invited for a bowel screen declined due to these reasons.

“In addition, due to patients with symptoms - therefore not screening - requiring the same procedure, clinic capacity has been prioritised for these islanders that have symptoms of higher clinical risk rather than those people needing a flexible sigmoidoscopy for a screening purpose alone. 

“Additional endoscopy capacity has been commissioned as part of a covid recovery bid and will support access to both symptomatic and screening appointments in 2021."

He explained: “A new model of bowel screening currently in the planning stages, which is in place in other jurisdictions such as Guernsey and the UK, will allow us to offer bowel screening to more islanders for the future and support the recovery process from covid. 

“This is expected to start in the autumn. This is a home test rather than an invasive hospital procedure and offers comparable rates of cancer detection and should ultimately support a wider uptake of bowel screening by the public.”

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Pictured: The Health Minister said the island was looking at a "new model of bowel screening" already in place in Guernsey.

Answering a written question from St. John Constable Andy Jéhan, Deputy Renouf added that the Health Department was making a bid to the Treasury for more money to help clear its backlog and encourage more people to be screened.

“A business case is being developed to implement a new model for bowel screening. This will allow us to screen more patients for bowel cancer as the home test approach will support both the reduction of the backlog and also provide increased capacity in the future.”

He said that leaflets and posters had been produced for both healthcare professionals and the public describing what screenings were available and how people could access them.

This year, he added, new easy-read versions had been produced to support persons living with learning disabilities or difficulties.

The number of people being screen for breast cancer also fell by 40% last year compared to 2019.

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