NICE should widen its urgent referral pathway for people with suspected bowel cancer, according to Bowel Cancer UK.

The charity says the move will enable GPs to be able to refer lower-risk patients for colonoscopy to improve early diagnosis.

Current NICE guidelines restrict GP urgent referrals to patients with high-risk symptoms, such as rectal bleeding, but these are only present in half of patients with bowel cancer.

NICE said it was working on new guidance that would make it easier for GPs to investigate symptoms.

In the report, Diagnosing bowel cancer early: right test, right time, there was criticism about issues with access to colonoscopy and flexible sigmoidoscopy, including a lack of investment in capacity by CCGs and delays to patients accessing diagnostics.

The report also warned about the capacity of current endoscopy units to cope with the additional 350,000 procedures predicted during the next three years. The charity called on CCGs to increase funding for endoscopy services to meet the increasing demand.

Over 40,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year in the UK.