Concern has been expressed about the long waiting times people currently face for bowel cancer tests.
Figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) show that at the end of February, 4,184 people were waiting over three months for colonoscopies.
According to Donal Buggy of the Irish Cancer Society (ICS), this represents 45% of all people waiting for a colonoscopy. Furthermore, the proportion of people waiting longer than three months has not dropped below 40% since February 2015.
"We know that late diagnosis means worse outcomes and fewer treatment options for patients. This problem is long past crisis point. We simply can't accept more than two out of every five public patients waiting over three months for an important, and potentially life-saving test, as the new normal," he insisted.
He said that despite increased investment in outsourcing colonoscopies to the NTPF, which has managed to ease some capacity issues, more radical long-term solutions are now needed.
"This should include ensuring capacity for diagnostic tests, like colonoscopies, is made available in the elective-only hospitals recently announced as part of the National Development Plan.
"Sometimes, those waiting for a test whose previously mild symptoms become more severe, may in such cases of acute pain be forced to attend an Emergency Department," Mr Buggy pointed out.
A recent joint project between the ICS and the National Cancer Registry of Ireland revealed that of the 2,700 bowel cancers diagnosed every year in Ireland, around 500 are diagnosed as emergencies.
Among these emergency diagnoses, approximately three out of every five are already at an advanced stage.
Around 2,700 people are newly diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and around 1,000 people die annually, making it the second most common cause of cancer death in this country.
However, bowel cancer is often very treatable if caught early. In fact, 95% of patients diagnosed at stage one are alive five years after diagnosis, compared to around 10% of those diagnosed at stage four.
The ICS is highlighting colonoscopy waiting times as part of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month which is running in April.
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