Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Labour promises nationwide bowel cancer screening programme

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

Labour will roll out a nationwide bowel cancer screening programme within three years if it is elected, leader David Cunliffe announced this afternoon.

Mr Cunliffe said the current screening programme would be extended to Waikato and Otago-Southland District Health Boards next year, because these regions had high rates of bowel cancer.

A national programme would be introduced within the Parliamentary term.

Mr Cunliffe said National was dragging the chain on an expanded scheme for bowel cancer, which killed around 1200 New Zealanders a year.

Health Minister Tony Ryall is waiting on the results of a $24 million pilot programme at the Waitemata DHB before he considers a broader scheme.

The Government wanted to collect evidence on whether the programme was cost-effective, and was concerned about whether there would be enough staff to meet the demand of an expanded programme.

Mr Cunliffe said the results of the Waitemata trial spoke for themselves.

"More than 58,600 people completed a bowel screening test, more than 3200 went on to have a colonoscopy and cancer was detected in 128.''

Labour's screening programme would initially target those aged between 50 and 64, and would consider raising the threshold to 74 years at a later date.

The Waitemata programme, which screens 50 to 74-year-olds, would remain the same.

"Bowel cancer kills five times as many Kiwis each year than are killed on our roads,'' Mr Cunliffe said.

"Screening results in at least a 15 per cent reduction in the death rate and prevent 180 deaths a year.''

Labour estimated that the cost of running the scheme in Waitemata, Waikato and Otago-Southland would be $14 million a year from 2015/16.

The Labour leader had announced plans for a national scheme when he was Health Minister in 2008, but this stalled when National came into power because of difficult economic conditions.

Once a national scheme was in place, it was expected to cost between $60m and $70m a year.

Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague did not support Labour's proposal, saying it was important to understand the negatives of a screening programme before massively expanding it.

"It's easy to quantify the benefits of a screening programme. It's a heck of a lot harder to know about any harm that has been caused.''

He pointed to the rejection of a national prostate screening programme because the potential risks of side-effects - such as impotence and incontinence - outweighed the benefits of detecting prostate cancer.

Mr Hague said it was clear that the workforce was not in place to meet any increase in demand for colonoscopies.

- NZ Herald

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