Hawke's Bay Hospital's new endoscopy and gastroenterology unit means more co-ordinated and accessible care for those affected by bowel conditions, Health Minister David Clark believes.
Ruakopito - the new $13.1 million facility - is the first of its kind in the country and was officially opened yesterday, with health professionals and family of some affected by the disease present.
"I've heard the loud and clear calls from bowel patients and whānau for better diagnosis, treatment, access to specialist services, and supportive care," Clark said.
"All the services these patients need will be available in a single-purpose building. They'll be able to get the help they need in a much more accessible way."
Hawke's Bay District Health Board Chief executive Kevin Snee said the opening of the building was an exciting step forward for the region in the detection, treatment and prevention of gastric and bowel disorders, including bowel cancer.
It coincides with the region joining the free National Bowel Screening programme (NBSP) next Tuesday, with letters being sent to eligible residents aged between 60 and 74.
"The demand will only increase as we screen, detect and treat early signs of bowel cancer," Snee said.
Gastroenterology Head of Department, Dr Malcolm Arnold, said more than 21,000 New Zealanders live with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and many others are as yet undiagnosed.
The condition is increasing in frequency throughout the world and New Zealand has one of the highest prevalence rates, with one in 18 males and one in 21 females experiencing bowel cancer by the age of 75 in New Zealand.
Arnold said the NBSP will identify cancers earlier and allow them to remove pre-cancerous polyps which will in the medium to long term reduce the incidence of bowel cancer.
"Hawke's Bay's population has a significant number of gastroenterological problems, many of which are undiagnosed. This facility combined with the rollout of the national bowel screening programme in Hawke's Bay means we can catch cancer at its early stages when people are not experiencing symptoms, and can more readily investigate symptoms which may be in keeping with IBD and provide earlier, more effective treatment.
"This will make a real difference in the lives of many patients and their families in Hawke's Bay each year," Dr Arnold said.
Clark said the programme was particularly focused on encouraging Māori and Pasifika people to participate, as Māori were often diagnosed later with symptoms of bowel cancer which can result in worse outcomes.
"I know Hawke's Bay DHB will be putting a lot of effort into engaging with Māori and Pasifika communities to promote the benefits of early detection through screening and support participation in the programme."