People in Otago, Southland and Counties Manukau have been ranked third in line to join the new bowel cancer screening programme.

The Hutt Valley and Wairarapa district health boards will be first two to join Waitemata - where the pilot screening programme is running - in the financial year starting next July.

They will be followed by the Southern and Counties Manukau DHBs, also in 2017/18, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said today.

The timetable for DHBs to join the scheme is based on factors such as regional bowel cancer incidence, waiting times for diagnostic colonoscopy bowel checks, and the screening IT capabilities of each DHB.


"Southern DHB has one of the highest incidences of bowel cancer in the country, and Counties Manukau has a large high-needs population," Coleman said.

"Both DHBs are managing their colonoscopy waiting lists for urgent and non-urgent cases at over 90 per cent seen within the recommended time, and they have the capacity to support implementation of the screening programme.

"The roll-out timetable will help to ensure that DHBs are in the best possible position to start the screening programme. DHBs will need to meet strict criteria to ensure they can deliver safe and effective screening in their area."

The aim of the programme is to reduce the bowel cancer death rate by detecting tumours at an earlier, more-treatable stage.

New Zealand has one of the highest bowel cancer rates in the developed world. Each year around 3000 people are newly diagnosed with the disease and more than 1200 die from it.

Patients tend to be diagnosed later in New Zealand than in Australia and the UK, both of which have a bowel screening programme.

The New Zealand programme will involve sending people kits for them to collect a tiny poo sample at home which they will post in a special container to a laboratory to be tested for invisible traces of blood that could indicate a tumour.

A bowel cancer screening test kit. Photo / Waitemata District Health Board.
A bowel cancer screening test kit. Photo / Waitemata District Health Board.

In the May Budget, the Government committed $39.3 million to expand the Waitemata scheme into a national screening programme, in three "tranches" of DHBs.

Before the Budget the Treasury criticised the business case for the scheme.

The Waitemata pilot programme offers screening to people aged from 50 to 74. The national programme will narrow the age range by starting at 60. Waitemata's entry age will remain 50 until the pilot ends on December 31 next year.

The reduced age range is to constrain the demand the scheme places on colonoscopy services. For the same reason the threshold of blood in the screening test for referral will be set higher than in the pilot programme.

More than 700,000 people will be invited for screening every two years once the programme is up and running.

During the early screening rounds it is expected that around 500 to 700 cancers will be detected each year.

Bowel screening programme timetable
District health boards confirmed to join the programme in 2017/18 financial year
Hutt Valley
Counties Manukau

Indicative timings for other DHBs
Hawkes Bay
Capital and Coast
Nelson Marlborough
South Canterbury

Bay of Plenty
West Coast