Bowel Cancer Australia is calling on Federal, State and Territory governments to increase funding for colonoscopies to reduce wait-times to 30 days and minimise patient distress and anxiety.
The call comes in the wake of independently analysed interim-results of Bowel Cancer Australia’s My Colonoscopy Experience, to mark the 2019 Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late campaign.
More than 1,400 Australians participated in the national survey – the first of its kind – addressing the patient experience before, during and after a colonoscopy procedure.
Ninety-four percent of respondents who experienced a wait time of one month or less believe this to be the appropriate time to wait for a follow up colonoscopy, but the latest AIHW data reveals people in all states and territories are waiting well beyond 30 days.
“The colonoscopy wait-time clock starts ticking from the first GP appointment if you have symptoms suggestive of bowel cancer or a positive test result,” Bowel Cancer Australia CEO, Julien Wiggins said.
AIHW figures show, depending on where they live, the majority of participants with a positive test result received a follow-up colonoscopy within:
• 197 days in the Northern Territory ↑ 30 days on the previous year
• 182 days in South Australia ↑ 1 day
• 175 days in Tasmania ↑ 33 days
• 160 days in New South Wales ↑ 4 days
• 154 in Queensland ↑ 13 days
• 149 days in the Australian Capital Territory ↓ 6 days
• 142 days in Western Australia ↑ 15 days
• 114 days in Victoria ↓ 2 days
“It is unacceptable for anyone to have to wait up to six months to find out if you have cancer or not,” Mr Wiggins said.
“Current wait-times do not meet medical guidelines when program participation is 41%, so how long will people have to wait to learn their fate in future as participation increases?” he asked.
The Federal Government recently announced a $10 million ‘advertising blitz’ to boost participation in the national screening program.
“While Bowel Cancer Australia welcomes greater awareness and screening participation, we are concerned additional funding has not been allocated to address follow-up colonoscopy wait-times,” Mr Wiggins said.
“Advertising campaigns will only be effective if participants are able to complete the screening process by having their positive test result followed up by timely colonoscopy.”
“Otherwise the opportunity for early detection of Australia’s second deadliest cancer, will be lost,” he added.
Colorectal Surgeon, Associate Professor Graham Newstead AM said in addition to reducing waiting lists, a state and territory public reporting register to monitor colonoscopy wait times was urgently needed.
“With more than 15,600 people being diagnosed each year, and projected to rise, timely access is essential if we are to save lives.”
“Positive test results and symptoms need to be investigated via a timely colonoscopy to rule out anything more sinister as an underlying cause,” A/Prof Newstead added.
Responses to the My Colonoscopy Experience survey also found:
- Younger respondents (18-34 years of age) who had waited more than six months from their first GP visit, received treatment in a public hospital, and/or received a cancerous result are more likely to report their symptoms worsening while waiting for a colonoscopy;
- More than two in five (46%) respondents who had a colonoscopy because they ‘experienced symptoms suggestive of bowel cancer’ said they had to visit a GP at least two times before receiving a referral;
- 14% of respondents had to insist on a referral from their GP. Of these, 62% received a cancerous diagnosis following their colonoscopy.
The My Colonoscopy Experience survey remains open indefinitely, takes little time to complete but can have a big impact on shaping the future of colonoscopy services. Anyone aged 18 and over who has had a recent colonoscopy can provide feedback about their care by visiting mycolonoscopyexperience.org
The call coincides with Bowel Cancer Australia’s 2019 Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late campaign to highlight that bowel cancer often develops without warning signs and the importance of a timely follow-up colonoscopy following a positive home-test result or symptoms, otherwise the opportunity for early detection is lost.