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Preventing the deaths from bowel cancer of people in Otago and Southland was a priority for the Labour Party, leader David Cunliffe said in Dunedin yesterday.
Mr Cunliffe used a visit to the city to announce part of Labour's health policy, committing to a national bowel screening programme which would start with extending the current service to the Southern and Waikato health districts at a cost of $14 million.
Eventually, the programme would be implemented nationwide at the cost of $60 million.
The move would involve extra funding of the health budget, although how Labour would fund the programme was not announced yesterday.
Mr Cunliffe promised the funding method would be released later, along with an announcement about a possible upgrading of part of Dunedin Hospital.
The Southern district had the highest incidence of bowel cancer and the highest death rate, along with Waikato which also had the highest death rate but not the highest incidence of the cancer, Labour health spokeswoman Annette King told the Otago Daily Times.
The roll-out would expand on a successful screening programme pilot scheme launched at the time Mr Cunliffe was a health minister.
''As minister of health in 2008, I pushed for the nationwide roll-out of bowel cancer screening. Since then, National has dragged the chain,'' Mr Cunliffe said.
Bowel cancer was the second-highest occurring cancer in New Zealand after lung cancer and caused 4.5 times more deaths than road accidents, he said.
It also killed more people than prostate and breast cancer combined.
National had said it would not make any decision on a national screening programme until the Waitemata pilot scheme was completed and all monitoring and evaluation data had been analysed.
''In the meantime, people will die waiting. These are preventable deaths.''
In the Waitemata scheme, nearly 59,000 people completed a bowel screening test, more than 3200 people went on to have a colonoscopy and cancer was detected in 129 people, he said.
Screening resulted in at least a 15% reduction in the death rate and could prevent 180 deaths a year.
Initially, the programme would target people aged between 50 and 64 with a view to extending it to 74 in the future, in a similar fashion to Labour's breast screening programme.