The words “finally” and huge sighs of relief could be heard across the country last week when the National Party presented its 2016 budget which included funds for a Nationwide Bowel Screening Programme.
Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman allocated $39.3 million over four years starting from 2017 for national bowel screening – starting with Hutt Valley and Wairarapa DHBs. This will be followed by a progressive roll-out across the country.
“Once fully implemented, the programme is expected to screen over 700,000 people every two years. We know that bowel screening saves lives by detecting cancers at an early stage when they can more easily be treated,” Dr Coleman said.
Once in place, DHBs will offer people aged 60 to 74 a bowel screening test every two years. More than 80 per cent of cancers found through the Waitemata pilot programme was in those aged 60 to 74.
While we at Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust are excited that last week’s budget announced the start of a much-needed screening programme, we believe the age gap is too narrow for treatment and there is still a lack of professional workforce staff to undertake the task.
Though the programme appears to target the 80% of cancers being detected, what happens to the remaining 20%?
307 bowel cancers were found during the Waitemata pilot programme. Under the new age restrictions for screening, 61 of those people saved would most likely go undetected.
Patients like Auckland mum Amanda Ferreira who at 44 passed away from terminal bowel cancer that had gone undetected during the birth of her three little girls Monet, 10, Nouvel, 6 and Valentina, 3.
Amanda would not have qualified for screening (picture of Amanda and her girls below taken from the NZ Herald).
Working alongside patients, surgeons and education providers, Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust is acutely aware there will continue to be an inadequate workforce to rollout a comprehensive screening program.
A workforce symposium in 2014 suggested that 100 specialists would be needed to roll out a nationwide screening programme. The Ministry of Health predicted they would only be able to recruit 40 of them over the next 10 years.
Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust will continue to work towards training colorectal nurses and provide complementary procedures to help reduce the colonoscopy waiting list for all New Zealanders.
New Zealand has the highest rates of Bowel Cancer in the OECD with Southland being the worst affected area. Over 3000 Kiwi’s will be diagnosed with bowel cancer this year and over 1,200 will die from it. Bowel Cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in New Zealand, more than breast and prostate combined.
90% of patients lives can be saved if bowel cancer is caught early enough.
Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust remains steadfast in our approach to help Kiwis get off the colonoscopy waiting list, and help those that do not qualify under government legislation for life-saving tests.
It will take up to 4 years to roll out the screening program nationwide. That leaves many people throughout the country in all age brackets still not able to qualify.
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With heartfelt thanks, Georgina.