Gastroenterologist Dr Michael Schultz in the colonoscopy
suite at Dunedin Public Hospital yesterday. Photo by Gregor
Up to $75,000 worth of free colonoscopies will be
provided to Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes patients this
month in response to perceived lingering problems with
accessing colonoscopy services in the region.
However, the Dunedin doctor who will do the procedures says
he had a ''hard time'' finding colonoscopy candidates to fill
the 30 available spaces, which suggested most people were now
able to access the service through the public health system.
The colonoscopy clinics, on this Sunday and the following
Saturday at the Wanaka Lakes Health Centre, are funded by the
Central Otago Pinot Noir Charitable Trust and Mercy
Hospital's Charitable Outreach programme.
The hospital matched the trust's $25,000 contribution to the
procedures, believed to be the first free colonoscopies
offered in Otago outside the public sector.
Gastroenterologist Associate Prof Michael Schultz has reduced
his fees for performing the procedures and the health centre
also reduced its room rental.
Wine trust chairman Alistair King, of Wanaka, said funds were
raised in January at the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration
during an auction for the futures of a cuvee to be produced
by the district's winegrowers.
The trust's previous funding partnerships with Mercy Hospital
helped children needing grommets and cataract patients.
In 2007, Dunedin Hospital largely stopped doing surveillance
colonoscopies for people with increased risk of bowel cancer,
because the gastroenterology department was overloaded.
However, the number of elective colonoscopies available was
subsequently increased to surveillance of high-risk patients,
putting the hospital in line with national referral criteria.
Mercy Hospital chief executive Richard Whitney said although
the Southern District Health Board's service delivery between
Dunedin and Invercargill had ''levelled out'' and the backlog
of colonoscopy patients had been addressed, feedback from
general practitioners still indicated a lack of accessibility
for semi-urgent or routine screening colonoscopies.
However, Dr Schultz's involvement in the free colonoscopy
project had given him a different perspective.
He will carry out the procedures - which would usually cost
between $2000 and $2500 each - on patients who have been
referred by GPs in the Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago
Candidates needed to have an indication for a colonoscopy, be
unable to pay privately and be facing delays or difficulties
in accessing the service in the public sector.
''Obviously, the public perception is still out there that
colonoscopies are difficult to get hold of, but the fact is
that GPs weren't quite that forthcoming with names,'' Dr
''So one can only assume that ... all their patients in need
of a colonoscopy go to the public system, or the private
system for that matter, and get the service they expect.
''But nevertheless, I thought it's a good idea to go forward
with [the free procedures].''
Some of the referrals also suggested a ''lack of knowledge''
among Otago GPs about the public health system's colonoscopy
criteria, which some mistakenly thought their patient would
While concerns about colonoscopy accessibility persisted,
''at least we are operating within the national framework'',
Dr Schultz said.
''We're never going to be able as a country to provide open
access colonoscopy ... so you will always find the GP who
will say 'my gut feeling says that this patient has cancer'.
Well sorry, a gut feeling's not a hard enough indication for
this patient to have a colonoscopy.
''But at least we are not different to the rest of the
country. We do provide every service in terms of
colonoscopies that is required by national criteria and we're
quite proud that we have achieved that now.''