Ministry was unaware of colonoscopy data

Hundreds of Dunedin Hospital patients did not receive surveillance colonoscopies over several years but that was not tracked by the Ministry of Health, which only started individually recording the procedure last year.

Health Ministry stakeholder relations senior adviser Emily Barrett said, in an email, the ministry had had limited data on colonoscopy.

''There has been a lack of information about what colonoscopies were being performed in DHBs nationally.

''The situation will improve,'' Ms Barrett said.

The lack of information led to ''variations in service provision'', meaning New Zealanders' access to colonoscopy partly depended on where they lived.

Last month, the Otago Daily Times revealed hundreds of patients were being contacted to see if they still needed a colonoscopy. Dunedin largely stopped providing surveillance colonoscopy in 2007, except to a small number of patients with a hereditary condition, because the gastroenterology service was overloaded.

Surveillance colonoscopy is carried out for patients with an increased risk of bowel cancer because of their family history. Before last July, colonoscopy volumes were reported by health boards without distinguishing between urgent, non-urgent, and surveillance procedures. The data on individual procedures collected since then was not yet of high enough quality to release, Ms Barrett said.

''The data quality will improve as the national referral criteria for colonoscopy are implemented by all DHBs.''

DHBs were implementing standard referral criteria, against which the detailed reporting by procedure could be made.

''Initiatives are under way that will improve this situation by establishing clear expectations for DHBs around the provision of colonoscopy services, including monitoring volumes and waiting times across urgent, non-urgent and surveillance categories,'' Ms Barrett said.

In an emailed statement last month, the health board said about a third of about 320 affected patients had been contacted. The catch-up was launched after the board adopted the national referral criteria.

The ODT is seeking to interview a board representative about the catch-up programme. Yesterday, a spokeswoman said this would likely be next week, depending on the availability of senior staff.

- eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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