The test, called flexible sigmoidoscopy, should have been introduced from spring 2011.
But problems with computer systems mean it will only now be piloted from next March.
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, yesterday announced the roll-out would start in seven areas of England.
But his announcement glossed over the fact that Andrew Lansley, his predecessor, had made a similar promise in October 2010.
Back then, Mr Lansley said: “We’re going to introduce an exciting new screening test for bowel cancer which could save up to 3,000 lives a year.
“We have secured the funding for a four-year roll out and will, subject to the green light from the UK National Screening Committee, begin pilots from spring next year.”
Bowel cancer kills 16,000 people a year, more than either cancers of the breast or the prostate. It is a priority area for the Government, which wants to prevent an extra 5,000 deaths a year from cancer by 2015.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy, also called flexiscope, allows for earlier diagnosis and treatment of bowel cancer, and even removal of pre-cancerous growths called polyps. A 16-year trial, supported by Cancer Research UK, showed it halved deaths from bowel cancer.
In October Harpal Kumar, chief executive of the charity, said: “Flexiscope needs to be brought in as soon as possible. Every week of delay will risk scores of lives.”
Last night, a Department of Health spokesman admitted that “issues with procurement of IT systems” had caused the delay.
She said: “Delays to a vital IT system meant the pilots did not start as soon as hoped but we are confident that we will reach our aim of achieving 60per cent coverage across England by 2014.”
Under the delayed roll-out, people in seven NHS areas will be invited for flexi-scope screening when they reach 55.
The areas are: Norwich; South of Tyne; St Mark’s in north west London; Surrey; West Kent; and Wolverhampton.
Dr Nick Summerton, a Yorkshire GP and a Department of Health advisor on cancer screening, said it was clear there was a “lack of capacity” in the NHS for checking for bowel cancer.
He said: “We really need more honesty about such issues from politicians.”
By Stephen Adams