About: Queen Elizabeth Hospital (Gateshead)

What I liked

My complaint is about the Bowel Cancer Screening Department. See dates below of my fiasco:

10.10.12 - sent first test kit back.

13.10.12 - Received "unclear" result and asked to do a further test

16.10.12 - Sent second test kit back.

22.10.12 - Received second test result which was 'clear" and enclosed third test kit, despite their own policies/procedures that after an clear result I would be asked to do a third test in due course - not, methinks, by return of post!

26.10.12 - Returned third test kit.

So far, to date 6.11.12 I have received nothing, despite two phone calls. Apparently they sent out the results of the 3rd test on 2nd November, but today 6.11.12 I have not received them.

I told the phone operator that I suffer from chronic IBS and getting a test alone is a task in itself, obviously. My stress levels for the past month are off the scale and it's now affecting my sleep. He only repeated that the results had been sent out and they would re-send them. I asked for a Manager who could give me the results (as I have all my personal details etc and don't see the problem). Guess wot - no manager on site - Rubbish! I have worked in NHS all my life and there is always a manager on site. So then I told him that if he could re-print off the letter to be re-sent to me, he could give me the results - Response: (and I quote) - The request gets sent to the post room, who print off the letter and send it out to you!

So let me get this straight - my personal medical information can't be given to me, but it can be sent to the Post Room. Where's the confidentiality in that then?

At the end of all this, there is a brilliant paragraph stating "Bowel Screening does not guarantee detecting bowel cancer" So why is this programme in existence then ?

And they go on TV advocating the Bowel Screening programme. Not likely!

What could be improved

Attitude of telephone staff.

Ensure a Manager is on site (I was told there was no manager on site) to deal with personal/confidential/emotional matters such as cancer screening.

Training Cancer Screening staff to be more sympathetic to callers who are obviously in distress.

Anything else?

Makes me wonder if it's worth continuing with the Bowel Screening programme. You specifically state that even after all the tests, it is not guaranteed to detect bowel cancer, so why put people through all this stress?

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Response from Queen Elizabeth Hospital

I am sorry and disappointed that this experience of the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme was not a good one.

As the manager of the North East Bowel Cancer Screening Hub, I have investigated the complaints and observations made and would make the following comments:

The screening pathways for the national programme are clear, in that an unclear FOB test result, followed by a clear test result requires completion of a third test before a final screening outcome can be determined. It is national policy for that third kit to be included with the result letter of the second kit in such circumstances as the screening outcome cannot be determined without it.

It is also national policy that test results must not be given out over the telephone. This is to maintain confidentiality and assure that results are addressed in writing to the correct person. Confidentiality is a high priority for the screening programme and is taken very seriously. Every member of the Hub staff signs a national confidentiality agreement and the post room referred to in the observations from the complainant is a secure dedicated facility within the Bowel Screening Hub and not, as may have been inferred, an open access post room.

The incoming telephone calls to the Freephone helpline at the North East Hub are recorded and I have listened to the recordings of the relevant conversations on the 5th and 6th of November. While I understand the frustrations of the caller asking for results over the telephone, the Hub staff were quite correct in not giving out results as this would have been a breach of national information governance standards. In listening to the recorded phone calls, the complainant did not ask to speak to a manager, and at no point were they told that there was no manager on site. There is always a line manager available during the helpline opening hours, and the helpline staff have clear lines of escalation and support if required. The helpline staff undergo training in all aspects of the Hub activities, including call handling, and having replayed the telephone call recordings I’m afraid I cannot agree that the staff did not show sympathy or have any attitude problems. However, I do appreciate that a combination of stress and frustration at not being given results over the telephone may have led the caller to feel that way.

Bowel cancer screening aims to detect bowel cancer at an early stage (in people with no symptoms), when treatment is more likely to be effective. Bowel cancer screening can also detect polyps. These are not cancers, but may develop into cancers over time. They can easily be removed, reducing the risk of bowel cancer developing.

About 1 in 20 people in the UK will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime. It is the third most common cancer in the UK, and the second leading cause of cancer deaths, with over 16,000 people dying from it each year.

Like all screening tests, the FOB test is not 100% reliable. There is a chance that a cancer can be missed if it was not bleeding when the screening test was taken.

Ian Ward, Hub Manager

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