During the first wave of COVID-19 in March and April 2020, in common with a lot of other NHS services, King’s took the difficult decision to pause Bowel Cancer Screening. Dr Guy Chung-Faye, Consultant Gastroenterologist and Director of Bowel Screening, explained: “Most of our team were redeployed to help care for the influx of COVID-19 patients at King’s. However, our screening service saves lives, and stopping for a prolonged period of time was not an option, so we started putting plans in place to see patients as soon as it was safe to do so.”
During the suspension of services in the spring, a backlog of patients who needed the service had built up. From the end of April when Bowel Screening services restarted at King’s, Guy and his colleagues systematically worked through the list of patients waiting for their procedures. By the end of summer, the backlog had been cleared.
Dr Guy Chung-Faye explained: “In accordance with Trust and national endoscopy guidelines, we ensured we could continue to care for our patients and keep them safe. All patients were tested for COVID-19 before their procedures, and we worked in a COVID-19 secure environment, with all staff wearing the appropriate PPE. Patients at the highest risk of cancer were prioritised, and their procedure only took place if it was deemed safe for the patient.”
“In July 2020, we were able to reinstate full bowel cancer screening invitations for local people living in Lambeth and Southwark. We took the decision to increase invitations to screening to 150%, so we could include those people who were potentially at risk, and who were not able to attend our service during the lockdown period. By November, our screening service was fully back on track.
“Furthermore, during the second and third wave of COVID-19, we were able to continue offering bowel cancer screening to all our patients in Lambeth and Southwark.
“Since we restarted bowel screening in July 2020 until the end of Jan 2021, over 6,340 test kits have been sent out to patients, 178 Colonoscopies have been performed and 14 patients have been diagnosed with bowel cancer. We also removed polyps in over 151 patients which will protect them from future cancers, as most cancers evolve from polyps. Most of these patients would not have otherwise presented as they are usually asymptomatic.
“This was a great achievement, and involved a huge team effort at every level of the hospital to restore our service back to normal. Everyone showed extraordinary resilience, determination, and moved heaven and earth so that we could be there for our patients. We have adjusted to running our services in a world with COVID-19, and hundreds of people are happier and healthier as a result. We are now looking forward to extending the life-saving bowel cancer screening programme to younger patients in Lambeth and Southwark throughout spring 2021.”