Linda Brownlee, Scottish Bowel Screening Service Manager
NHS Tayside has hosted the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre at its Kings Cross site since it was opened by Shona Robison MSP in June 2007. A lot has happened in those ten years!
We’ve had literally hundreds of tons of bowel screening test kits returned to the laboratory by Royal Mail from every corner of Scotland. It used to be sacks and now its boxes of mail– it’s busier than Blue Peter in the seventies!!
Over the years there have been many dedicated staff pass through our laboratory and admin teams, 66 to date, each one playing their own vital role in the huge machine that is bowel screening.
Our small team of laboratory staff have tested millions of kits. The laboratory turnaround time is one of the quickest in screening services – we get the results back to participants well within 14 days of receiving their test kit. The team has grown over those ten years, not just in staff numbers but also some staff have become Mum and Dads and Grannies and even a Great Granny! There have been 11 babies born to the staff!
Every day the Bowel Screening IT System, fondly known as “BoSS”, generates the invitation letters, results and reminders automatically for everyone aged 50 to 74 (don’t worry, when you pass 75 you can still take part – just give us a call on 0800 0121 833). Around 6,000 letters go out each day and every one is carefully packed with a return envelope, vital little cardboard sample applicators and of course the test kits so that every eligible person in Scotland can safely complete their bowel screening kit in the privacy of their own bathroom. A few years ago we were sorry to stop the operation of the bespoke mail machine, the “Stuffer”, which ensured the mail was ready for pick up each day here at Kings Cross. Now an outsource company does this and we only check they’ve reached our high quality standards – and they do!
Our admin team is solely devoted to answering the Bowel Screening Helpline. Around 350 calls come in each day from across Scotland asking questions about bowel screening. Some take the whole process as a straightforward health check and others, especially if they’ve had a previous cancer scare, can be very anxious and upset. If people are asked to submit a second test (if tiny traces of blood were found in their first sample) waiting for the result is a very anxious time and these callers can be a bit tearful. We get calls from people who find the whole idea too stressful or can’t understand how to do it. Every call is confidential and we are happy to help, no matter how daft a question seems.
Over 70,000 people have been referred for colonoscopy, with hundreds having had a bowel cancer found early, thousands have had polyps removed that may have become cancerous and many of these people had no idea there was anything wrong as very often bowel cancer has no noticeable symptoms. You can see the figures on cancers detected on the ISD website at http://www.isdscotland.org/Health-Topics/Cancer/Bowel-Screening/.