GPs in Farnham and the wider Frimley Health region are leading the way on referrals for patients with possible bowel cancer.

A higher proportion of people being asked by GPs to use preliminary home testing kits are doing so locally than anywhere else in England.

The results of the Faecal Immunochemical Tests (FITs) mean cancers can be detected sooner, treatment can begin earlier and the chances of successful recovery are much better. It also means fewer patients will need to undergo invasive tests.

FIT is an important test in helping to improve the diagnosis of colorectal (bowel) cancer.

The Frimley Health and Care Integrated Care System (ICS), which is responsible for health and social care for the area’s 800,000 residents, has a test return rate of 92 per cent.

GPs across the area have been supported by the Surrey and Sussex Cancer Alliance to increase referrals, leading to quicker and more effective assessments and follow-up testing.

National guidance issued in July this year suggested that all patients being seen by their GP practice with possible bowel cancer symptoms should receive a preliminary home testing kit before being referred for further assessment.

Colonoscopy services are busy, with long waiting times to be seen, but by using the FIT system, GP practices have been helping to reduce the number of people referred for the invasive procedure.

Samples are sent to a laboratory for processing and the results are usually available within a week. As well as improving patient health outcomes, the home tests are also helping to improve waiting times and allowing people on non-urgent referral pathways to be seen more quickly.

The NHS England National Cancer Team reported that in the past year cancer alliances across the country (made up of leaders of hospital trusts and other health and social care organisations) had seen a 45 per cent increase in the number of urgent referrals for suspected lower gastrointestinal cancers (LGI) which were accompanied by a FIT.

Surrey and Sussex Cancer Alliance, of which Frimley Health and Care is a member, is one of the strongest performing Cancer Alliances – with 83 per cent of urgent suspected LGI cancer referrals accompanied by a FIT. The national figure is 69 per cent.

At 92 per cent, Frimley Health and Care emerges as the top performer in both the alliance and across England.

Ian Laidlaw, Clinical Lead at NHS Frimley and the former Chief of Service for Surgery, Urology and Cancer at Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, represents the ICS Cancer Clinical Oversight Group.

He said: “The introduction of the FIT test for our patients has been a great success in Frimley ICS and has improved the quality of care we deliver through system-wide working.

“A GP can order this reliable, readily available and relatively cheap test for their patient and have the result available in a few days, avoiding time consuming, unpleasant and expensive tests for the patient.

“The clinical teams can then concentrate resources and plan investigation and treatment in a timelier way for those who have a higher chance of a colorectal cancer diagnosis, whilst providing reassurance to a great many people who’ll no longer have to worry.

“The development and launch of the pathway involved teams in primary and secondary care working together and was coupled with regular education, monitoring and feedback on its use. The high level of implementation achieved in approximately six months shows the value of system-wide work in Frimley ICS to make best use of our resources to deliver best practice and benefit our patients.”

Remember never ignore symptoms or concerns. If you have been experiencing any symptoms for three weeks or more, contact your GP practice to make an appointment.