A bowel cancer screening programme pilot credited with saving 60 lives in its first year highlights the "outrage" of not rolling it out nationwide, University of Otago health services researcher Dr Sarah Derrett says.
Dr Derrett is on the board of advocacy group Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa, which is pushing for a national screening programme it says could save 400 lives annually.
Otago and Southland have the world's highest incidence of bowel cancer, the second most common cancer in New Zealand.
Health Minister Tony Ryall this week said the pilot at Waitemata District Health Board found cancer in 60 people, more than half of whom were in the early stages of the disease.
The participation rate was 54 per cent, and of the people tested, around 2200 were offered a colonoscopy because blood was found in their sample. More than 1400 people had had a colonoscopy.
Mr Ryall said work was under way to identify workforce development needed for a nationwide programme, a chief constraint to which was colonoscopy capacity.
Dr Derrett said the four-year pilot was too long, and any pilot ought to have been nationwide. This would have been the catalyst for health boards to build up their endoscopy workforce.
She saw no evidence the workforce was being built to prepare for a nationwide rollout.
Nurse practitioners could be trained to perform colonoscopies, as they were in some places overseas.
"Where are the training programmes ... how are they ensuring that we have the workforce to respond to this tragedy?"
Waiting until near the end of the four-year pilot to decide whether to roll it out was unacceptable, she said.
Pharmacy bowel cancer testing kits played a role, but could not replace a screening programme.
"Each year, 1200 New Zealanders die from bowel cancer; as many as 400 of these deaths could be prevented if the Waitemata screening was available nationally."