Screening for cancer defended

Annette King.
Annette King.
Labour says it has done its homework on its planned bowel cancer screening programme, and rejects criticism it will not be based on science.

The party's health spokeswoman, Annette King, contacted the Otago Daily Times to respond to Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague's concerns published in the newspaper yesterday.

Mr Hague had said he was disappointed Labour promised that, if elected, it would introduce a national screening programme, pre-empting the final results of a four-year pilot in Waitemata.

He warned of potential risks from the decision, which he said was not based on scientific evidence.

''I'm disappointed that Kevin's never spoken to me about it, because usually we're pretty much in line in terms of health policy,'' Ms King told the ODT yesterday.

She said the party undertook detailed background work on the policy before it was announced last month during a caucus visit to Dunedin.

As a former health minister, she understood screening programmes and their potential issues.

New Zealand would be following in the wake of other countries' bowel screening programmes, so there was no need to wait for the final results of the pilot, she said.

Ms King stressed the importance of gradually phasing in the programme to the whole country, which would allow the colonoscopy workforce to cope with increased demand.

Initially, the programme would be extended from Waitemata to include Otago-Southland and Waikato.

It was hoped the programme would be available in most regions by the end of a three-year term in office.

The Auckland Women's Health Council has also expressed concern about the risks of the promised programme, which it described as potentially a ''big mistake'' in a newsletter last month.

''Any attempt to launch a national bowel screening programme without rectifying the issues causing major concerns would result in utter chaos, and simply confirm that those in charge of our health system are unwilling to learn from the lessons of the past,'' the newsletter said.

The newsletter said the Waitemata pilot was ''having problems'' because demand for colonoscopies had greatly increased, causing anxiety for patients waiting for the procedure.

Ms King rejected the concerns, saying the Waitemata health board had reported no major difficulties, and the pilot was saving lives.

''I think we've got to look at the lives lost. There are more people who die of bowel cancer than breast cancer and prostate [cancer] put together,'' Ms King said.eileen.

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