Too many people are waiting far too long for an urgent bowel cancer test, the Irish Cancer Society is warning.
It wants urgent action to deal with the waiting list for colonoscopies which has reached worrying levels.
Latest figures from the HSE show that more than 2,700 people are waiting for an urgent colonoscopy, deemed necessary because they have shown certain symptoms.
More than 1,300 are waiting longer than the target of 28 days and over 300 are waiting more than 90 days.
Thousands more whose cases are considered non-urgent are also facing unacceptable wait times.
The Irish Cancer Society says urgent action is needed to ensure that people are not left waiting for the test, a situation that may lead to a delayed diagnosis.
The society's chief executive, Averil Power, says it is crucial people are diagnosed early to have the best chance of survival and a higher quality of life after cancer: “We have been concerned for some time about the underfunding and under-resourcing of the endoscopy services in Ireland, and now due to the pandemic things have reached a critical point.”
Ms Power says it is unrealistic to accept that endoscopy services can catch up with the urgent demand with their current funding, staffing and resources. Units will also be operating at reduced capacity to meet public health guidelines.
Consultant gastroenterologist, Dr Anthony O'Connor, says too many people needing an urgent colonoscopy are not being seen in 28 days — which is 'best practice' guidelines.
“This is not happening for too many people and many more will be left waiting for far too long unless we see steps taken now,” he says.
“The longer people have to wait the greater risk we are taking with their outcome if they are found to have cancer.”
Dr O'Connor says the entire health system is playing catch-up due to Covid-19 but endoscopy is already behind.
The society wants additional resources, including physical space and, as well as additional staff, it wants operation hours to be extended where appropriate.
It wants all available capacity in the private and public health systems to be maximised and for the Action Plan on Endoscopy to be fully funded.
Dr O'Connor wants to see more triage nurses recruited and the expansion of non-invasive testing for appropriate patients.
At the end of May, 18,871 people were waiting for a colonoscopy — an increase of 7,700 on the 11,171 waiting in May last year.