Free bowel screening will soon be available in Gisborne and surrounding districts with Tairāwhiti this week joining the National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP).

Hauora Tairāwhiti is the 11th DHB to join New Zealand’s newest cancer screening programme and the first to use a custom-built IT system that will manage and monitor a person’s screening journey from start to finish.

The system was originally due to be operational by October 2019, then delayed until March this year. Delays in developing the system, that will manage and monitor a person’s entire screening journey, impacted the number of DHBs able to roll-out bowel screening in the last financial year. The remaining screening DHBs will be switched over to the new system in coming months.

Over the next two years around 9,500 people, aged 60 to 74, in the region, will be invited to complete a home testing kit that can detect bowel cancer early, when it can often be successfully treated.

NBSP Clinical Director Dr Susan Parry says many people are totally unaware they have bowel cancer. ‘That is why screening is so important. The testing kit is designed to pick up tiny traces of blood in a bowel motion and to catch cancers before they become advanced and more difficult to treat.’

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world and, at 1200 deaths a year, it is the second most common cause of cancer death. Dr Parry says the disease typically affects older people.

‘These are parents and grandparents who are often at a stage in their lives where they are enjoying some free time and performing an important role supporting whānau. It is tragic to lose these people before their time to an entirely preventable disease.’

Dr Parry says communities in Tairāwhiti will benefit greatly from the introduction of bowel screening. She says it is particularly important that members of the region’s large Māori population take up the invitation to participate.

‘Māori often have the worst outcomes when it comes to bowel cancer so catching it early is key. I urge anyone who gets a letter of invitation in the mail, followed by a test kit, not to think twice. Just do the test and send it back. It could save your life.’

Dr Parry today congratulated the team at Hauora Tairāwhiti, which she says has put a huge effort into meeting Ministry requirements to begin bowel screening. ‘I know there has been particularly good engagement with the district’s Māori health providers and that will be ongoing. This programme is a significant health intervention that will benefit the people of Tarāwhiti in so many positive ways.’

The National Bowel Screening programme is now available in 11 DHB's and was expected to be implemented nationwide by June next year, but will now be completed by the end of 2021.
Since it began, just over three years ago, the programme has screened around 260,000 people and detected nearly 688 cancers, as well as removing hundreds of pre-cancerous polyps.