This is a Bowel Cancer post - so look away now if talk of bottoms disturbs you. Being doing multiple interviews today, following the admission by the National Assembly Health Minister that her Government's Bowel Cancer screening programme is not going to be delivered as advertised. Very disappointing for those of us who care about this issue. Wales is lagging behind both England and Scotland.
The screening programme will begin later on this year. It will involve sending out testing kits to everyone between 60-69. In two years time the programme will extend to those aged 70-74. The Assembly Government is making much of the fact that the programme is to be extended to everyone 50-59 in 2015 - something that is not proposed at all in England. Personally, I don't attach much significance to any Government promissory note which falls due in seven years time. The reality is that the timetable for introducing screening in Wales is way behind England and Scotland.
Reason I'm a campaigner is that I was a man in my 50s when I went down with Bowel Cancer in 2002. Actually it was Colorectal Cancer, which includes tumours of the bowel and the rectum. These days I usually say that I suffered from Bowel Cancer to avoid confusion. My tumour was so low down in my rectum that it could not be rejoined, so I underwent a lower bowel resection, which involved removal of my rectum, anus and associated bits and pieces, and the construction of a colostomy. But good news was that its position meant that I'd become aware of the tumour's existence at a comparatively early stage. If it had been higher up, I may have kept the bits that I lost, but I might not have known about the problem until the cancer had spread to other organs.
Which brings us to the screening programme. Its pretty basic stuff - and not very expensive. All that happens is that a card is delivered (every two years) which requires faeces to be spread on it. Tumours leak blood, and the card identifies traces before it becomes obvious to the human eye. Its the next steps for which there is insufficient capacity in the Wales NHS. Every 1000 tests throw up 2 tumours, which often require a colonoscopy (a camera around the bowel). This is not like using a set of draining rods. It requires skill and training. We don't want some cowboy poking holes in the colon - that kills people. And the there's the follow up surgery. We need oncologist capacity to deliver all the extra operations needed. So whats going to happen is that all these tumours are going to left undisturbed, to develop from the stage where full recovery is likely to a stage where complex, debilitating treatment, and often death is the prognosis. Sounds nasty when put like that. Now you know why I'm disappointed.
There are hundreds of people in Wales working, playing, laughing, loving and even blogging who have tumours busily growing in their bowels, without anyone knowing. If they were to be treated now, the chances of full recovery would be good. But because we are not even going to try to find these evil little aliens, they will break out of the bowel wall and spread to the liver and other places. Eventually, they will show themselves, but only when they have much more of a grip. 16,000 people die of Bowel Cancer in the UK every year. The official policy of turning a blind eye has gone on for long enough. Yes, talk of bottoms is embarrassing, but so many deaths is a very high price to pay for it..