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Bowel Cancer UK funds first bowel cancer clinical lead in Wales

Thu, 09/12/2019 - 11:15
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Bowel Cancer UK has announced that it is funding Wales’ first Bowel Cancer Clinical Lead, Professor Jared Torkington, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon at Cardiff and Vale Health Board, via the Wales Cancer Network.

Professor Jared Torkington
Professor Jared Torkington

As the Bowel Cancer Clinical Lead, Professor Torkington will lead the Wales Cancer Network’s newly formed Bowel Cancer Initiative. In this role, he will also lead the work of the Colorectal Cancer Site Group to champion the ambitions laid out in the newly developed optimal patient pathway for bowel cancer.

“I am delighted to be able to begin this role at a crucial time which sees a number of different bowel cancer focussed activities come together to deliver improvements for patients. In my own clinic, I am seeing an increasing number of patients who come to me when their bowel cancer has spread,” said Professor Torkington. “Treating patients this late is never easy and treatments are more complicated and outcomes are poorer. The work I will be doing through the Bowel Cancer Initiative will bring the bowel cancer clinical community together to really get to grips with poor outcomes. The people of Wales deserve better and this initiative will help to improve the situation across Wales.”

Professor Torkington’s leadership will bring together the bowel cancer clinical community to deliver a work plan that will include:

  • Supporting local bowel cancer teams to ensure patients start treatment in line with the new 62 day target laid out in the newly launched Single Cancer Pathway (SCP). In August the SCP published its first set of performance measures which showed that in June 2019, only 74.4 per cent of patients started their treatment within the 62 day target.
  • Creating and supporting initiatives to increase screening uptake in the country as it’s the best way to detect bowel cancer early. Between April 2017 and March 2018 only 55.7 per cent of people eligible to take the bowel screening test in Wales actually completed it.
  • Working alongside NHS colleagues to tackle the shortages in staff needed to carry out endoscopy procedures. The demand for endoscopy has been increasing dramatically over the last few years and further demand will follow with the introduction of a new bowel screening test.  Hospitals are already struggling to cope with demand leading to long waiting times for patients. Of the 6,036 people waiting for an endoscopy procedure in Wales in June 2019, 1,566 were waiting for eight weeks or more and 682 of those were waiting for 24 weeks or more.

In November 2018, the latest International Cancer Benchmarking Project (ICBP) report was released that showed people with bowel cancer in Wales spend longer waiting for a diagnosis and starting their treatment compared to counterparts in other countries with similar healthcare systems.

“We are delighted to fund Professor Torkington as the Bowel Cancer Clinical Lead for Wales. Very few people realise that bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer, yet many people will know of someone who has been affected by this terrible disease,” said Lowri Griffiths, Head of Wales for Bowel Cancer UK. “Over the years many attempts have been made to tweak services to improve outcomes for patients, but tinkering at the edges does not work. We need a fundamental shift in the way services are delivered and a new energy and enthusiasm from the bowel cancer community to enable us to make the changes we so desperately need.”

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in Wales. Every year 2,200 people are diagnosed and over 900 people die from the disease, making bowel cancer the second biggest cancer killer in the country. Early diagnosis is crucial because the chance of surviving the disease is closely linked to the stage of cancer.

Nearly everyone diagnosed at the earliest stage of disease (stage 1) will survive, however survival rate drops significantly for those who are diagnosed at the later stages (stage 3 or 4). The patient pathway is vital to improving survival rates, as the earlier a patient starts treatment the chances of survival increases.

“This is a great time to for the Cancer Network in Wales to be working with Bowel Cancer UK to improve the outcomes for patients in Wales. Whilst experience of care once in the system is good, other outcomes such as survival is relatively poor,” said Professor Tom Crosby, Cancer Clinical Director in Wales. “We must improve access to diagnostic tests so that we can lower the threshold for primary care referrals of symptomatic patients and accelerate the introduction of evidence-based interventions such as FIT testing at an appropriate test and age threshold. Professor Torkington is the right person for this role and am grateful to Bowel Cancer UK for supporting this collaborative initiative.”

The post is funded for two years by Bowel Cancer UK but managed by The Wales Cancer Network, which is part of the NHS Wales Health Collaborative and is a national vehicle for joint working between key stakeholders including NHS Wales, Welsh Government and the third sector to improve the outcomes and experience for people with cancer in Wales.