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Vaughan Gething AM, Minister for Health and Social Services

First published:
22 February 2019
Last updated:

This was published under the 2016 to 2021 administration of the Welsh Government

I would like to update Assembly Members on changes to bowel screening in Wales. Since 31st January, Bowel Screening Wales (BSW) has been providing new faecal immunochemical testing (FIT) as part of its routine screening programme. The test will replace the current guaiac faecal occult blood test (gFOBt) completely by June 2019. The new test has been introduced through a phased implementation which means that not all participants in the programme will receive the new test immediately. This phased implementation is necessary to allow for verification of the modelling data which will enable BSW to explore how this test performs in our population. Scotland is currently the only other UK country to have introduced FIT and I am proud that we are able to do so here in Wales.

FIT is capable of delivering significantly more than current testing in terms of public health benefits. Not only is FIT more accurate and easier to use than the current gFOBt, but there is flexibility to adjust the sensitivity threshold of the test in order to achieve different positivity rates. BSW is implementing at a threshold of 150µg/g (150 micrograms of blood per gram faeces) initially. This is expected to generate a slightly higher positivity rate than the current test, but as uptake is also expected to improve demand for follow-on diagnostic investigations such as colonoscopy is expected to increase significantly.

The intention is to gradually increase the sensitivity of the test and lower the starting age range of the programme over the next four years in parallel with increasing colonoscopy capacity. It is important that the optimisation of the bowel screening programme is delivered in a phased and measured manner to ensure people with suspected cancers can continue to be promptly investigated and treated.