The number of people waiting for colonoscopies, which are often used to check for bowel cancer, has increased to record levels, with 2,418 now waiting more than three months for the procedure nationally.
The numbers waiting for this often vital test have more than doubled in a year, latest figures show.
The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) told irishhealth.com it is planning to meet with the National Cancer Screening Service (NCSS) to discuss the growing waiting list and its implications for the planned roll-out of the national bowel cancer screening programme next year.
The ICS says it remains concerned that with only four months to go until national bowel cancer screening is rolled out, more people are waiting more than three months for a colonoscopy than ever before.
ICS Head of Advocacy and Communications Kathleen O'Meara said they were very concerned that waiting times for bowel tests for those referred by their GPs were not dropping quickly enough in advance of national bowel cancer screening.
"There is no reason that people should be waiting more than three months for a colonoscopy and this has to be dealt with urgently in advance of bowel cancer screening."
The ICS says a colonoscopy is the most effective procedure for the early diagnosis of bowel cancer and screening will put additional pressure on services that are already under stress.
It said the August figure was the highest since it started receiving colonoscopy stats from the National Treatment Purchase Fund 18 months ago.
The figures show that the numbers on colonoscopy waiting lists grew from 2,268 to 2,418 between July and August, an increase of nearly 7%.
The numbers waiting for bowel tests for more than three months has increased by 36% since April and has increased by more than 1,400 over the past year.
The hospital with the longest waiting list is Beaumont in Dublin, which had 662 waiting over three months for a bowel test last month, an increase of 474 on the same time last year and 45 more than last month.
Other hospitals with long colonoscopy waiting lists include St Luke's, Kilkenny with 323 and Tallaght with 174.
Tallaght was one of the 15 hospitals selected by the NCSS back in February as an initial candidate site for the national bowel screening programme when it gets under way next year.
Other hospitals chosen as candidate sites which currently have high colonoscopy waiting lists include Connolly in Dublin, the Mercy in Cork, and Letterkenny General.
The NCSS said back in February that the candidate units would achieve confirmed status as centres for the national screening programme if they demonstrated sufficient capacity and reduced their waiting times.
Nationally, a total of 71 patients were waiting over a year for a colonoscopy at the end of August, compared to 33 in August 2010.
The HSE says nearly all patients who require colonoscopies that are deemed urgent are seen within 28 days, and not all referral for colonoscopy are made to check for cancer.
However, the ICS says it would not make a distinction between 'urgent' and non-urgent' cases with regard to colonoscopies checking for possible bowel cancer.
It ways while people with very obvious symptoms such as rectal bleeding might be classified as urgent, many referrals would not have obvious symptoms and many without severe symptoms can end up being diagnosed with stage two cancers.
However, in relation to the current record waiting lists, the ICS says it is optimistic that Health Minister James Reilly's recent announcement that the role of the NTPF is changing will have a positive impact on waiting times.
The NTPF will in future target specific waiting list backlogs.
It has urged 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 that procedure as soon as possible.
Around 930 people die from bowel cancer in Ireland each year.
Read more about bowel cancer here
See also www.cancer.ie
The problem with waiting lists
This is the 'moving the chairs on the Titanic' syndrome. Move money and resources from one aspect of health care to the one in the news at the moment and the one who has someone to shout the loudest and then change the emphasis again when the next blow up comes about numbers or safety or waiting lists or epidemics, or whatever.