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Abstract Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common cancer and the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK with 36 100 new cases diagnosed each year in England and Wales and 55% of all patients presenting with lymph node metastases at the time of diagnosis. Early detection, before the development of symptoms, may be an effective way of reducing mortality and it is this which a screening programme seeks to address. The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme (NHS BCSP) commenced in April 2006 and invites men and women aged 60–69 to participate via submission of a faecal occult blood test every 2 years; those with a positive result will be offered colonoscopy as the next investigation of choice. This article will explore the background to the programme, including the financial considerations behind it and the implication that this has had on colonoscopy standards and training in the UK. The chosen programme is not the most effective neither in terms of survival benefit nor cost effectiveness but is a compromise within a financially strained health care system. Endoscopy standards because of its introduction have, however, considerably improved in terms of patient experience, safety and improved practice.