Answers sought on delay to bowel screening

David Clark.
David Clark.
A bowel cancer group is questioning a delay to the national screening programme, saying the reason has not been adequately explained.

Bowel Cancer New Zealand executive member Associate Prof Sarah Derrett said she did not understand the delay, nor why Health Minister David Clark was unable to say when every health board would start screening.

Dr Clark said last week he was slowing implementation by a year to ensure the programme was safely delivered. He talked about an issue with ''implementation software'' and blamed the previous government for under-funding DHBs.

''It's important to point out that we're currently operating in an environment where the health sector has suffered from nine years of neglect by the previous government, which failed to adequately fund district health boards.

''We've inherited a health system with DHBs in financial crisis with ballooning deficits,'' Dr Clark said.

Screening creates extra work for DHBs through extra colonoscopy and surgery demand.

''I think we need a much more comprehensive response from the minister to understand what is happening with the roll-out of the bowel cancer screening programme,'' Prof Derrett said.

Full implementation would now happen in 2020-21, a year later than planned, but Prof Derrett pointed out it took two years to introduce screening, thus full implementation was not until 2023.

''[On] the current death rates . . . there would be over 7000 [bowel cancer] deaths before 2023.

''It's very important that we understand a confirmed timetable for all DHBs,'' Prof
Derrett said.

She remained concerned the screening age range, from 60 to 74, was too narrow. It disadvantaged Maori and Pacific people particularly, exacerbating health inequalities.

She said Dr Clark needed to address under-funding in DHBs that had left them short of resources for the programme, but in the long term, screening saved money.

''It's stopping unnecessary expenditure on palliative services and very expensive end-of-life treatments.''

Prof Derrett would try to set up a meeting with Dr Clark in the new year to clarify the matter.

Three boards had started screening, and would be joined by the Southern DHB next year, and six more by mid-2019.

After that point, Dr Clark's office was unable to say which five boards would start in 2019-20 and which five in 2020-21.

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