A regional approach aims to improve how the NHS locally uses endoscopy (telescope test) to diagnose cancer of the stomach and oesophagus (gullet).
These cancers predominantly occur in people over the age of 50, with 50% occurring after the age of 70. Despite this, a quarter of all endoscopies are being done in people under-50 and relatively few in older people. So, despite having one of the highest rates of endoscopy in the country, we find that many of these cancer patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage.
Now clinicians across the region have joined forces in an effort to ensure more appropriate use of endoscopy – people who need one have it at the right time but people at low risk of cancer can try treatment before having an invasive procedure. Dr Mark Welfare, Gastroenterologist at Northumbria Healthcare Trust said: “No one wants uncomfortable investigations like an endoscopy unless they really need one.
“In the North East and Cumbria, GPs, NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), the Northern Cancer Alliance, hospitals and the Sustainability Transformation Partnerships (STPs) have partnered together to launch an initiative that helps to better identify patients who will benefit from endoscopy whilst also helping GPs to offer other patients a wider range of choices to help their symptoms such as heartburn or indigestion.
“We found that there was room to change practice safely because some GPs were referring eight times fewer young people than other GPs.
“A comprehensive plan aims to turn this around – offering a more standardised and consistent approach across the North East and Cumbria with the aims of improving cancer diagnosis, helping people avoid unnecessary endoscopy and offering better treatment options for patients – including looking at how they eat and lifestyles factors such as excess alcohol consumption and maintain a good body weight as well as medication.”
Dr Katie Elliott, GP and Primary care lead for the Northern Cancer Alliance said: “This has been a great opportunity to work together to improve patient safety and use resources effectively to investigate people for suspected cancer.”