Labour promises bowel screening programme

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 12:54 14/04/2014

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Labour has committed to a national bowel screening programme, saying National had "dragged the chain" on preventing cancer deaths.

A bowel screening pilot programme being carried out in the Waitemata District Health Board area in Auckland, has shown promising results.

But the Government has said it would not be rolling the programme out nationwide until the pilot finished and the full results analysed.

The programme had already seen solid results, but questions remained over whether staffing levels could cope with the extra work from nationwide screening.

But Labour leader David Cunliffe today committed to the nationwide scheme, beginning with an extension of the existing service to Southern and Waikato DHB districts.

He made the announcement with health spokeswoman Annette King in Dunedin today.

"As Minister of Health in 2008 I pushed for the nationwide rollout of bowel cancer screening," Cunliffe said.

"Since then National has dragged the chain.

"If testing can prevent deaths there should be no prevaricating.

"Labour plans to begin the rollout next year, starting in Otago-Southland and the Waikato, areas which have a higher than proportionate bowel cancer death rate."

Cunliffe said the programme would initially target those aged between 50 and 64, with a view to extending it to people aged 74 in future. The Waitemata programme would continue to provide screening checks for those aged up to 74.

The programme was costed across the three DHBs at $14 million a year from $2015-16.

About 3000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in New Zealand every year and the disease kills about 1200.

Health Minister Tony Ryall last week announced a $3.5 million funding boost toward providing more colonoscopies.

Waiting lists for the procedure were blowing out as district health boards struggled to keep up with growing, and ageing, populations.

In the 2012-13 financial year, 41,000 colonoscopies were performed - a 20 per cent increase on the year before.

Ryall said the funding would help DHBs deliver more than 3000 extra colonoscopies, prioritising patients most in need.

"This government is committed to improving outcomes for people with cancer, and ensuring they receive timely access to diagnostic procedures like colonoscopies is a big part of that."

An alliance of the eight major cancer organisations in New Zealand welcomed the extra funding, but questioned whether DHBs had the resources to cope with the extra work increased colonoscopies would bring.

Spokeswoman Dr Jan Pearson said the bowel cancer screening pilot was detecting cancer and pre-cancer in people with no symptoms, leading to good outcomes.

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"While the Government has signalled its intention to address the workforce issues around a national rollout of the screening programme, [we are] concerned about the lack of progress," she said.

"It's critical that workforce capacity planning issues don't impede the national rollout of this life-saving programme."

The alliance comprises Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa, New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation, Cancer Society of New Zealand, New Zealand Gynaecological Cancer Foundation, Hospice New Zealand, Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand, Melanoma Foundation of New Zealand, and Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand.

- Stuff

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