The stalled rollout of the bowel screening programme is underway again with Otago and Southland joining the programme today.

Earlier this year the Ministry of Health announced that IT issues and a shortage of colonoscopists had led to an around 12 month delay in the roll-out timetable for the national screening programme.

Southern District Health Board (DHB), which joins the programme today, is the first of the five DHBs due to start the programme in 2018.  But there is still no start date for some of the country’s largest DHBs – including Auckland, Waikato, Capital & Coast and Canterbury – which were all initially due to start in the 2018-2019 year.

The Minister of Health Dr David Clark has also ordered an independent review into the National Bowel Screening Programme after it was revealed earlier this year that 2500 Waitemata residents missed out on an invitation for bowel screening – a figure that last week the Ministry of Health announced had jumped to 15,000.

Dr Susan Parry, the clinical director of the National Bowel Screening Programme, said at today’s launch that Southern DHB had one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the country and there was “no doubt that this programme will reduce the impact of this disease for individuals and their families in these communities”.  She said every month nationwide about 100 people die from bowel cancer and the screening initiative would help save lives.

The southern screening programme will see about 51,000 Otago and Southland residents aged between 60-74 invited to take part and it was expected more than 100 cases of bowel cancer would be found. The Waitemata DHB pilot had included people under the age of 60 but the decision was made to fund a national screening programme for people aged 60-74 as 80 per cent of bowel cancer diagnoses were in people aged over 60 years.

Parry said Southern DHB staff, along with primary care organisations, had put “a huge effort” into meeting Ministry requirements to ‘go live’ with the programme.

“DHBs have to meet a rigorous checklist ensuring facilities, staffing and systems are up to scratch before they can start bowel screening.  We need to ensure that once screening starts, colonoscopy services and treatment facilities are in place to cope with the inevitable spike in demand in the early stages of the programme.

Southern is the first DHB in the South Island to become part of the national programme and joins Waitemata (which transitioned from the pilot to the national programme at the start of the year) and Hutt Valley and Wairarapa DHBs which joined a year ago. Counties Manukau is expected to join by June 30, followed by Nelson-Marlborough, Lakes and Hawkes Bay by the end of November.

No dates are set for the when the remaining 10 DHBs will join the programme but the nationwide roll-out of the National Bowel Screening Programme is expected to be completed by the end of June 20/21 – a year later than originally planned.

More information about bowel cancer and the national programme can be found here https://www.timetoscreen.nz/bowel-screening

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