Labour pushes cancer screening

Labour will release policy next month on a move to expand a bowel cancer screening pilot, the party's health spokeswoman Annette King confirmed yesterday.

The Government's four-year pilot screening programme in Waitemata, Auckland, detected cancer in more than 129 people in its first 21 months.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said a decision on whether to introduce a national screening programme would not be made until the pilot was finished and evaluated.

This has been criticised by patient advocacy group Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa, which says the timeframe is much too slow. When contacted, Ms King declined to give details, saying that would pre-empt the announcement.

''We're looking at a staged roll-out across New Zealand.''

Otago would see an early introduction because of its high rate of bowel cancer, she said.

Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa said in a press release last week New Zealanders would die while the Government ''continues to dither'' on whether to introduce a national screening programme.

Otago and Southland have the world's highest incidence of bowel cancer, the second-most common cancer in New Zealand. Mr Ryall, in a press release last week, suggested workforce capacity had to be built before a nationwide programme could be introduced.

''One of the big constraints is the workforce to do the colonoscopies, but there is a lot of work going on in this area,'' he said.

''Already the Government has invested $1.8 million over two years for the national roll-out of a programme to improve endoscopy services.

''We are also providing more money to DHBs to help reduce the backlog of colonoscopies and improve waiting times.''

Results of the first 21 months of the screening pilot (January 2012 to September 2013) showed more than 58,600 people completed a bowel screening test kit, and more than 3200 went on to have a colonoscopy.

Mr Ryall said many of those found to have cancer, more than 129 had no symptoms.

''This shows the screening pilot is detecting cancers at an earlier stage than you would expect in a normal clinical setting, where people visit their doctor because something is not quite right.''

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