Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Push for bowel cancer screening programme

The Cancer Society wants funding for a national screening programme to be one of its top wishes for this month's Budget. Photo / iStock
The Cancer Society wants funding for a national screening programme to be one of its top wishes for this month's Budget. Photo / iStock

A business case for a national national screening programme to detect and treat bowel cancer is being finalised.

Health advocates say lives can be saved if the Government expands a pilot screening programme, with the Cancer Society making funding for a national programme one of its top wishes for this month's Budget.

In a statement, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said he was "working hard to ensure health remains a key priority for this year's Budget".

"A business case is still being finalised. Last year the ministry consulted with the sector to inform the next steps towards a potential national bowel screening programme, and we had positive feedback from the sector.

"We want to build on the success of the Waitemata DHB screening pilot as well as the progress made in delivering more colonoscopies and reducing colonoscopy waiting times."

In July last year, Dr Coleman indicated that the beginnings of a national programme could be in place from early 2017 and he expected to take a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year.

New Zealand has one of the developed world's highest rates of bowel cancer registration and deaths.

Around 3000 cases are registered each year and there are about 1200 deaths from the disease. Bowel cancer is our most commonly registered cancer and our second most common cause of cancer death. Survival rates are better for patients in whom the disease is detected at an early stage.

A pilot screening programme is running in the Waitemata health district for people aged 50 to 74. It began in late-2011 and was to run until December last year, but in the Budget in May, the Government granted the Waitemata DHB $12.4 million to extend the scheme until December 2017.

The scheme involves people taking a tiny faeces sample at home and sending it in a special container to a laboratory for detection of blood that might indicate cancer or pre-cancer. Those who have a positive result are offered colonoscopy for diagnosis.

Dr Coleman has previously said the main constraint on creating a national programme would be having enough colonoscopy staff, but schemes were under way to address this.

Labour today hosted a health summit, where groups including the Cancer Society and Grey Power spoke of what they wanted out of this month's Budget.

Cancer Society chief executive Claire Austin said the organisation was hoping funding would be made available for a national screening programme, including the needed investment in infrastructure.

Other priorities for the society were for an early-access fund to enable Pharmac to fund drugs like Keytruda sooner, an overhaul of the travel-assistance scheme for cancer patients, and an investment in an overall cancer strategy.

- NZ Herald

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