Colonoscopy queues to get shorter

Last updated 05:00 24/03/2014

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Dozens of Southlanders with health concerns who have been waiting months for "urgent" colonoscopies are set to get them, thanks to a lift in Ministry of Health funding.

Colonoscopies are used to help diagnose bowel cancer, a disease that kills more people in Southland than breast and prostate cancer combined.

The ministry has given the Southern District Health Board extra funding to perform an additional 135 colonoscopies.

Southern DHB gastroenterology clinical leader Jason Hill said 162 patients had been waiting more than four months for the procedure at Southland Hospital.

Of those, 88 "urgent and non-urgent" patients had waited at least four months for procedures, while the other 74 non-urgent patients had waited more than five months.

Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa chief executive Megan Smith said the organisation and the board met last year to discuss concerns about the length of time some urgent patients were waiting for colonoscopies.

"We were aware this was an issue for people, mostly those in Invercargill, but the district has worked hard to improve patient access," Ms Smith said.

She said the staff at Southland Hospital had worked several weekends to clear the backlog and the organisation was told earlier this year that 90 per cent of people waiting for urgent procedures were seen within two weeks.

That improvement was important because it could be quite a tenuous time for patients, she said.

"The wait can be quite confronting and patients are often concerned about the spread of cancer - it is a time of high anxiety for patients."

The extra funding would have a positive impact on patients waiting for the procedure in Southland. It would benefit people waiting for colonoscopies to investigate symptoms and those considered at risk of developing the cancer.

The board has heralded improved access to colonoscopies used to check for cancer since the ministry changed its guidelines to the access for surveillance of colorectal cancer.

"The introduction of national access criteria and establishment of a single point of triage has gone some way to create a sustainable, transparent and more equitable service, and this extra funding will allow the service to achieve in three months what would otherwise have taken two years," Dr Hill said.

The funding comes just months after an audit of the Otago surveillance colonoscopy wait lists found eight people had died of bowel cancer complications between 2007 and 2011.

But the Southern DHB said there was no definite conclusion anyone had an "unexpected death or major loss of function as a result of limits on surveillance colonoscopies during those years".

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- The Southland Times

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