Now, more than ever, we must continue to raise awareness of bowel cancer and the importance of the bowel cancer screening programme here at St Mark’s. The COVID pandemic has presented huge challenges to the NHS, including bowel cancer screening, when the screening programme was suspended from March to May in the first lock down. During this period, CRUK stated that over 2,000 cases of bowel cancer went undetected in England in the first lockdown alone!
This is when the amazing team spirit of both the bowel screening and endoscopy teams’ really came to the fore! It was all hands on deck and activities ranged from working with infection control to create new safeguarding procedures to keep patients and staff safe to get services up and running again to producing patient information videos to reduce anxiety about coming for screening and endoscopy during the pandemic. The video was produced completely “in-house” with staff filming, editing and translating the video into 14 different languages. The turnaround in getting this information out to patients was less than a month, and became a model for patient information across London’s Hospital Trusts during the pandemic, quite an achievement!
But it doesn’t stop there, again all staff, from admin to consultants rallied together when new BSG Guidelines required some 1,700 bowel cancer surveillance patients to be individually reviewed whilst services were suspended. Each review involved at least a 12 step process with multiple checks and sign off at each step of the review to ensure continuing patient safety and excellence of care here at St Mark’s.
Almost 18,500 people in the locality St Mark’s screening centre serves did not get an invitation for bowel screening during the first lockdown. Again, staff at the screening centre worked together to turn this around, extra invitations for screening were sent out every month and by November St Mark’s had cleared the back log of unsent invitations ensuring people locally could access their screening appointments should they need them.
The bowel screening centre strives to reduce inequalities in access to its services for our local population. It does this my monitoring uptake and conducting audits of who is and who isn’t coming for screening and uses this information to conduct research to inform its health promotion work to improve screening uptake for everyone and particularly those population groups who may face additional barriers in accessing the service.
Bowel Cancer Awareness Month provides an opportunity to remind people of the importance of taking part in the bowel screening programme and we would encourage anyone seeking information or who has concerns to check out our website: www.stmarksbowelscreen.co.uk go to “About Cancer” then click on “ The screening journey” to watch our staff talking about what you need to know about different aspects of screening or call the National Bowel Cancer Screening Helpline on 0800 707 6060.