Date Published: 10 August 2010

Irish Cancer Society concerned at growth in colonoscopy waiting lists

Health News from Ireland

The Irish Cancer Society has said that there is no reason for any patient to wait more than three months for an urgent test:

The Irish Cancer Society is concerned at the continuing growth in the lists of people waiting more than three months to undergo a colonoscopy, the most effective procedure for diagnosing bowel cancer.

According to data provided by hospitals to the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), which manages public hospital waiting lists, there are now 1,073 people waiting more than three months for a colonoscopy. This represents an increase of 13% or 122 more people since the Society last published figures in May. This comes on foot of further increases since the end of last year. In December 2009 there were 852 patients waiting, and the lists have since increased by over 25% to 1,073.

We understand that the NTPF has enough capacity to deliver colonoscopies for everyone currently waiting more than three months.

Head of Advocacy and Communications Kathleen O’Meara said,

" We are now even more concerned at the growth in the numbers of patients on waiting lists for colonoscopies because we know that there is space for every patient waiting to be treated immediately by referring them to the NTPF. We don’t know why hospitals are not using the resource that is available to them to clear their backlog. It is important that hospitals, and indeed patients themselves, are aware that the NTPF service is available.

" We understand that the NTPF has written letters to patients currently waiting more than three months to tell them they are entitled to a free colonoscopy. We do not know why patients are not taking up the offers in greater numbers, but the response rate to these letters is surprisingly low, at less that 20%,’ said Ms O’Meara.

Irish Cancer Society Nursing Services Manager Joan Kelly said,

" We urge people who have been waiting for a colonoscopy in a public hospital for more than six weeks to take action by contacting their GP to see if they can schedule the procedure as soon as possible. If patients are waiting for longer than three months, it’s important to know that you can contact the NTPF (LoCall 1890 720 820) to discuss referral for a colonoscopy to a private hospital free of charge. If you are concerned about bowel cancer, you can also speak in confidence with a specialist cancer nurse by calling the Irish Cancer Society’s National Cancer Helpline on Freefone 1800 200 700."
- IvyRose Note: Telephone Numbers are for callers from Ireland only.

Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in Ireland, after lung cancer. In 2008 there were 2,216 new cases of bowel cancer and 966 deaths from the disease. Over 50% of patients in Ireland are diagnosed with Stage 3 or 4 bowel cancer – the most advanced stage of bowel cancer. Less than 5% of patients with Stage 4 bowel cancer survive for longer than five years.


As a crucial step towards ensuring that more people are diagnosed earlier and survive this disease, the Irish Cancer Society is also seeking the implementation of a national bowel cancer screening programme by 2010 for everyone living in Ireland aged 50-74 years. In July 2009 the Irish Cancer Society announced an offer of €1 million towards the rollout of a national bowel cancer screening programme.

At the end of February 2010, Minister Mary Harney announced of a bowel cancer screening programme for the 60 to 69 age group to be rolled out by 2012. We think this is a good start but we will be seeking assurances from the Minister for the completion of the rollout as soon as possible to include the 55 to 74 age group as a crucial step towards ensuring that more people are diagnosed earlier, treated effectively and survive this disease.

Bowel Cancer Warning Signs

Warning signs for bowel cancer include:

  • Change in bowel habits lasting more than a month
  • Bleeding from the back passage
  • Regular feeling of trapped wind or fullness in the stomach area
  • Feeling as though there is something left to pass even after bowel movement
  • Pain or discomfort in stomach area or back passage
  • Weight loss for no apparent reason
  • Ongoing tiredness or weakness.

Bowel Cancer Risk Factors

  • Age
  • Having a family history of bowel cancer
  • Having a family history of polyps (abnormal growths of tissue in the lining of the bowel)
  • Having a diet which is high in fat and low in fruit, vegetables and fibre
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking


Source: The Irish Cancer Society..

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