Former health secretary Andrew Lansley criticises government over cancer screening

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Former health secretary Andrew Lansley has called on the Government to improve bowel cancer screening after revealing he is being treated for the disease.

The Conservative peer said he could have been diagnosed earlier if a screening programme he introduced in 2010 had not been frustrated by cuts “wrongly” imposed by the treasury.

Lord Lansley has been told by doctors he has “every reason to hope” his cancer can be effectively treated, but said he had been lucky it was spotted nine months ago.

Writing in a national newspaper, he called for action to ensure that future sufferers do not have to rely on chance for an early diagnosis.

It comes after BBC newsreader George Alagiah, who is receiving treatment for bowel cancer for the second time, said the disease could have been caught sooner with earlier screening.

Lord Lansley, 61, announced a new “bowel scope” test to detect signs of cancer among 55-year-olds after being made health secretary.

It was intended to be made available across England by the end of 2016, but fell foul of cuts to Health Education England (HEE) imposed by the Treasury in 2014.

Lord Lansley wrote: “The bowel scope is only available to about 50 per cent of the population. A lack of endoscopists and difficulties with IT have frustrated delivery. Bowel scope could save 3,000 lives a year, but training and recruiting endoscopists and support staff will take years.

“Health Education England is getting more resources for training more NHS staff, reversing the Treasury-imposed cut to the HEE budget in 2014, when it was treated, wrongly, as a budget not within the NHS ‘ringfence’.”

Lord Lansley said his cancer was spotted nine months ago, when back pain and “nagging” from his wife persuaded him to see his GP.

But if the bowel scope scheme had gone ahead as planned, he would have automatically been called in for screening.

He welcomed the Government’s commitment to Fit, a new home-testing kit, which he said has the potential to detect more cancers while requiring fewer endoscopies than bowel scope.

He called on future plans to include cutting the age for screening to 50 “in line with international best practice”.

Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer, said urgent investment was needed to ensure that more screening was available. She said: “Implementation of the new Faecal Immunochemical Test (Fit), which had been due to roll out this April but is now significantly delayed, must be a priority for the Government.

“Each month we delay implementation, more people are put at risk of a late diagnosis making their chance of long-term survival harder.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “We want to lead the world in cancer care, and timely, effective screening is key to achieving that goal.

“That’s why the rollout of an additional test is well under way, which will mean all men and women in England are invited for bowel scope screening around the time of their 55th birthday.

“This is in addition to the routine bowel cancer home testing programme already in place for people aged 60 and older.”

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister is sad to hear of Lord Lansley’s diagnosis and wishes him well in his treatment. The Prime Minister has been clear that cancer treatment is a priority for the Government. We want to make sure that the best treatments are provided.

“Our cancer screening programme is world-class. Around 7,000 people are alive today who would not have been had mortality rates stayed the same since 2010.

“But we absolutely recognise that we want to do better and are introducing a new and improved bowel screening - the Fit test. We have also committed £200 million over the next two years to improve early diagnosis and care.”