More than 1,000 extra patients in the Cwm Taf health board area could be encouraged to take part in screening for bowel cancer by a follow up letter from their GP, researchers found.
The findings were presented to more than 140 delegates who attended the annual Cwm Taf University Health Board Research and Development conference at the University of South Wales Conference Centre on November 24.
Delegates included NHS research active professionals, academic and industry collaborators, executives, independent members, patient representatives and Welsh Government.
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the area with more than 230 new cases a year, and the third biggest killer resulting in 93 deaths.
Delaying going to the GP with symptoms and not taking advantage of a screening test can mean that diagnoses are not made early when the chances of survival are best.
Routine screening of people aged 60-74 takes place every two years with men and women sent a screening kit to their home which they have to return in the post to the Bowel Screening Wales programme.
Public Health Consultant Sara Thomas reported that the return of the test in Cwm Taf, at just over 50%, was below the national target of 60%, and fell below 44% in one part of Merthyr Tydfil.
The uptake is lowest in deprived areas.
The research aimed to test if endorsement by GP practices could improve the response to the bowel screening test and examined the effectiveness of three different methods of reaching patients.
The work confirmed that reaching the non-responders through primary care was feasible and increased uptake of the screening.
Mrs Thomas said: “If the letter only intervention was rolled out across Cwm Taf practices and produced similar results we would see an increase in the annual Cwm Taf bowel screening uptake rate to 56%.
“This would equate to an additional 1,148 patients taking part in bowel screening across Cwm Taf. Identifying people at risk of bowel cancer through this screening test, together with adopting a healthier lifestyle such as a high fibre diet, being physically active and stopping smoking, would reduce the number of new cases and deaths we see from bowel cancer.”
The presentation was judged the best among 10 pieces of research featured at the conference and was awarded a £200 prize by judging panel Prof Alison Bullock, Cardiff University, Dr Rachel Adams, Cardiff Metropolitan University, and Mrs Angela Jones, Cwm Taf Public Health.
Other projects included the use of a national electronic alert to define the incidence and outcomes for patients with acute kidney injury; and the development of a method to assess the quality of colonoscopy procedures.
More than 40 poster presentations were also on show at the conference.
Prof John Geen, assistant director for R&D outlined the amount of high quality collaborative research and development work being undertaken across Cwm Taf and thanked those who contributed.
“Please take the opportunity to network and develop collaborations with other research active NHS, academic and industry partners here today, and continue to take the Cwm Taf’s R&D ambitions from strength to strength,” he said.
Keynote speaker was Prof Judith Hall OBE, an international leader in the fields of Sepsis, anaesthetics and pain, in addition to her work leading clinical education and charity Mothers of Africa in sub-Saharan Africa.
Prof Hall asked, “How do we not lose the NHS”, in times of austerity and emphasised the support for R&D and innovation to bring about change. She encouraged all to develop a mind set of an ‘innovator’ or ‘early adopter’ and described the collaborative work she is undertaking with Cwm Taf UHB to inform change.
Professor of primary care at Oxford University Chris Butler, who acted as the conference scientific chair, said that few health boards were as supportive of research as Cwm Taf.
“I have been blown away by the breadth and quality of work going on in this health board,” he said. “It was an inspiring day and I hope that the sense of excitement will go beyond the day and research will be truly embedded into the care delivered by the health board.”