Waiting time 'halved' for patients with bowel cancer symptoms

Katrina Strak, Dr Kamal Aryal and Sister Rachel Atkins

Left to right: Katrina Strak, Dr Kamal Aryal and Sister Rachel Atkins. - Credit: James Paget Hospital

A new service aiming to see people with bowel cancer symptoms more quickly has halved the time in which some patients are being diagnosed.

The colorectal straight to test service, set up at the James Paget hospital in Gorleston, has seen some patients go from referral to diagnosis in 22 days.

Previously, the process might have taken several weeks, as patients with GP referrals waited at least a fortnight for tests such as a colonoscopy or a CT scan, and then longer until diagnosis.

Now, people who visit their doctors with symptoms that need further investigation are electronically referred and then triaged by nurses who decide if the patient is suitable for straight to test or should first attend the clinic.

In the first month of the service, officially launched in April, over 198 patients were triaged, with 41 following the straight to test pathway.

In 97pc of cases, patients were triaged on the same day as the referral, while the others were all triaged within three days. 

The first patient to follow the new pathway was referred on April 26, then triaged and phoned on the same day.

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They were then booked for a colonoscopy in the endoscopy department on May 5, a CT scan on May 13 and were reviewed on May 17 before the diagnosis was given – a total time of 22 days from referral to diagnosis.

Consultant Colorectal Surgeon and Colorectal Cancer Lead Dr Kamal Aryal said the new service aimed to achieve a diagnosis and communication to patients within 28 days of referral.

“We know that it can be a worrying time, not knowing how serious symptoms may be or what may lie ahead, so making a diagnosis quickly can help patients in a number of ways.

The endoscopy team at James Paget hospital in Gorleston

The endoscopy team at the James Paget hospital in Gorleston, which has recently launched a new straight to test service for people with bowel cancer symptoms. - Credit: James Paget hospital

"The new pathway can reduce the need for multiple hospital visits and if we have to progress to surgery, it is at an earlier stage, which gives a better outcome for patients."

Colorectal Sister Rachel Atkins and Clinical Nurse Specialist Rebecca Brown said: “We usually make contact quite quickly after the referral and patients are often surprised to have been called within a day or so of seeing their GP.

"While it may be more appropriate for some patients to come into our clinic before having the tests, those who are suitable can really benefit from the Straight To Test pathway."