Long waits for endoscopies have been eliminated in many parts of the UK, but some people are still waiting too long for the procedures, particularly in the south east, according to a report published by the Healthcare Commission, UK.
The report also highlights concerns about the quality of care for patients undergoing an endoscopy, a procedure used to detect conditions such as bowel cancer and stomach ulcers.
“Taking a Closer Look” is the second of three reports from the Healthcare Commission, which together present a comprehensive assessment of diagnostic services in England during the period 2005/06. The review looks at the performance of all 201 gastrointestinal endoscopy units in NHS acute hospitals.
Just over a million patients in England undergo an endoscopy each year. An endoscopy is an invasive procedure that uses a probe to check for abnormalities such as ulcers and cancers in the stomach or intestines and remove samples for analysis. Types of endoscopies include: gastroscopies (which examine the upper digestive tract), and colonoscopies and flexi-sigmoidoscopies (both of which examine the lower bowel).
The report says there are wide variations in waiting times. At the time of the review, some patients were waiting more than a year for a routine colonoscopy and some less than a month for the same procedure.
At the end of last year, in the south east, 50% of patients had been waiting for more than 26 weeks for a colonoscopy, while in north east less than 0.2% of patients had been waiting this long.
The Department of Health has stipulated that from this month, all diagnostic tests should be done within 13 weeks of referral. This is to help trusts meet the 18-week referral to treatment target by the end of 2008. In December, 31% of people on a waiting list for a colonoscopy and 20% of those waiting for a gastroscopy had been waiting for more than 13 weeks.
The report also states that 16% of people waiting for a colonoscopy and 9% of people waiting for a gastroscopy had been waiting more than 26 weeks.
The report predicts that about 30 trusts will fail significantly to meet this month?s 13 week target for colonoscopies, and that one in five patients will still be waiting over 13 weeks.