Cancer draws surgeon home

ALEXIA JOHNSTON
Last updated 05:00 11/02/2014
chris gray
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/ Fairfax NZ
BACK HOME: Chris Gray has returned to Timaru after taking up a role as general sergeon for the SCDHB.

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South Canterbury's high bowel cancer rate has prompted the return of surgeon Chris Gray to his home town of Timaru.

Mr Gray, a former Timaru Boys' High School student, is three weeks into his new role as general surgeon for the South Canterbury District Health Board.

He left Timaru in 1996 to study and has now returned with his wife and two children.

Mr Gray's appointment has boosted the board's number of general surgeons to five. The increase is perfect timing for the board after the Government announced on January 31 that 80 more South Canterbury residents will receive elective surgery in the next five months.

While each of Timaru's general surgeons will conduct bowel surgery, Mr Gray has taken a specific interest in the specialty.

"I approached Timaru [Hospital management] two years ago, once I had fully qualified as a surgeon and said ‘I want to come back to Timaru, what do you want me to do to bring back more experience?' "

The response was "bowel surgery", so from that point on he made it his business to learn more.

"Now I'm back here for the long term," he said.

"While I will not be doing the high-end stuff - that will go to Christchurch or Dunedin - [I] will keep the DHB at the high end of colorectal care."

South Canterbury has one of the country's highest rates of bowel cancer and the district's ageing population meant the problem was likely to increase, Mr Gray said.

In another bid to help improve the statistics, he has become the South Canterbury representative on the Southern Cancer Network. The network is a South Island-wide group, which includes "several specialist heavyweights" who specialise in bowel cancer.

Mr Gray said his involvement meant South Canterbury would get direct advocacy and he would be able to focus on the population's needs.

He said that like many forms of cancer, if bowel cancer was detected early there could be good long-term outcomes.

To improve early detection rates, a bowel cancer screening test was being piloted by the Waitemata District Health Board. As part of the programme, people over a certain age received a kit to test themselves. If the test was positive the person was invited to have a screening colonoscopy.

So far, there have been 39,482 people put through the pilot programme. Of these, 75 people have been diagnosed with bowel cancer and many more with pre-cancerous polyps.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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