The news that the number of Waitemata residents missed from the bowel screening pilot has jumped to 15,000 has alarmed Bowel Cancer New Zealand.

The Ministry of Health yesterday revealed that 15,000 may have missed out on invites – up on the 2,500 missing invites admitted to by the Ministry in February.

The patient-led charity Bowel Cancer New Zealand said following OIA requests by journalist it had raised concerns in March that the number of people missed out was higher than initially acknowledged.

“It is now more imperative than ever the Ministry of Health’s review is thorough and transparent, said Bowel Cancer New Zealand spokesperson Mary Bradley. “The New Zealand public has a right to know what measures were taken to correct the address error and what will be done to prevent this from happening in the future.”

National Screening Unit clinical director Dr Jane O’Hallahan said the Ministry took full responsibility for the oversights and would continue to contact those affected to apologise and invite them for screening over the coming months.

The missed invites were part of the Ministry’s bowel screening pilot programme which invited almost 200,000 Waitemata residents between 2011 and 2017 for a free screening.

Around 117,000 were screened successfully but up to 15,000 people missed out.

“Initial analysis has shown that more than 30 of these people have developed bowel cancer,” said O’Hallahan. “As previously, we will undertake clinical reviews to determine if the delay in screening could have made a difference to their outcomes.”

Bradley said Bowel Cancer New Zealand continued to support a nationwide bowel screening rollout as New Zealand could not afford any more delays with 1,200 people dying each year.

“Let’s be clear, we will already be waiting four years until 2021 for the last five DHBs to get screening. It’s time for the Ministry to be much more transparent and to listen to peoples’ concerns – journalists should not be needing to make repeated OIA requests before the Ministry explains what has occurred.”

It also questioned why people in the target age range in screening areas cannot self-refer to the screening programme – rather than relying on people having up-to-date addresses registered with GPs or public hospitals.  It said it was concerned that all eligible New Zealanders have access to screening – including groups who could face barriers to accessing GPs, such as people on low incomes and Maori and Pacific New Zealanders.

O’Hallahan said the issue was caused by an IT problem and human error.

“Tracing people who didn’t have up-to-date addresses in the National Health Index (NHI) has been a challenge and, at the time of the pilot, our systems for updating records in the bowel screening register from the NHI could have been better.

“We have clearly failed some people and for that we are sorry.”

Minister of Health David Clark 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.

O’Hallahan said the Ministry welcomed the review and was confident its recommendations would lead to ongoing improvements.

Members of the public who had any questions about their eligibility could visit or call the Bowel Screening National Coordination Centre on 0800 924 432.

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