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The $3.2 million facility increases the amount of space for staff and patients.
The department will be opened officially on Friday, but staff moved to their new quarters late last week, and the first procedures were performed yesterday.
Today’s colonoscopy marks another milestone since Southern became the first South Island DHB to join what will eventually be a national screening programme: New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world, and Southern district has one of the highest rates in the country.
The screening programme will see around 51,000 eligible 60-to-74-year-olds invited to participate over the next two years.
"We are expecting about 50% more work based on the screening programme in the first couple of years," gastroenterology clinical director Jason Hill said.
"Because we have bigger space and more rooms, I don’t think that will be a problem: our current wait time for people on the endoscopy programme is two weeks and our wait for non-urgent patients is only three weeks — I don’t think we are going to blow that out at all."
The department has two endoscopy suites, with a third yet to be commissioned — enough capacity to carry out an additional 300-350 colonoscopies expected to be performed as part of the programme.
The suites will be operating at near full capacity almost immediately: each room can do 10 sessions a week, and 19 patients have been booked in for the first week.
The suites can be turned into emergency operating theatres.
"The third room is not commissioned, and that’s primarily because of money," Dr Hill said.
"But I suspect by this time next year they will have commissioned it because we have the work already, which is fine."
The new department also has a gastrointestinal treatment room, separate admission and discharge rooms and changing rooms, and a 10-bed, seven-seat recovery area.
"We couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out," Dr Hill said.