Joao Pedro da Silva is urging people to have bowel cancer tests done early rather than relying on the health system to detect symptoms and treat them promptly.

The 41-year-old builder from Whangārei was diagnosed with cancer more than one year after he started experiencing rectal bleeding and ended up with a colostomy bag.

He will live with it for the rest of his life and said the health system in Northland had failed him badly with the late diagnosis.

A Northland District Health Board investigation into his case revealed a significant delay in a follow-up clinic appointment, which resulted in a delayed diagnosis.


"The delay was attributed to a backlog of appointments which arose during a period of vacancies within the department," general manager surgical, pathology and ambulatory services Andrew Potts said.

"The delayed diagnosis is certainly regrettable and we apologise for the distress caused."

Recently released figures from the Ministry of Health revealed only 75.7 per cent of Northland patients had urgent tests done for bowel cancer within two weeks, which was well below the target of 90 per cent.

The Northland DHB has blamed the excessive waiting times for patients on a lack of specialists and facilities at the Whangārei Hospital due to inadequate funding.

For non-urgent tests that need to be done in 42 days or less, the completion rate is just 21 per cent while the rate for surveillance colonoscopy is 57 per cent in Northland.

Da Silva had haemorrhoids and was prescribed cream by his GP in August 2015.

"The cream was giving me relief from haemorrhoids but there was an undiagnosed cancerous tumour inside. By the time I was diagnosed by a specialist in December 2016, it was at stage three which was a 50 per cent chance of survival."

Joao Pedro da Silva ended up with a colostomy bag after late cancer diagnosis. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Joao Pedro da Silva ended up with a colostomy bag after late cancer diagnosis. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Da Silva said he was referred to the Whangārei Hospital's outpatient's unit about March or April 2016 and doctors said they would call him in six months despite him demanding a colonoscopy test be done.

Following the diagnosis in December 2016, a number of tests were done at Whangārei Hospital followed by 22 weeks of chemotherapy and a further six weeks of radiotherapy in Auckland.

He lost about 30kg by the time his treatment started and had trouble eating and sleeping.

Da Silva said his father and an uncle died from bowel cancer yet that did not raise a red flag with Northland's health system.

"I feel we put a lot of trust and faith in the medical professionals that they'll look after us to the best of their ability. But that doesn't happen all the time. Instead, we have to fight them.

"You're awefully sick and in the worst state of your life and on top of that you're expected to do this extra fighting which I think goes against the health system. You don't feel like being treated humanely, quite frankly.

"You shouldn't feel like the victim. You should feel like a patient. What's happened to me has changed my life immeasurably, permanently."

Da Silva said while the NDHB talked about a lack of funding, there was absolutely no acknowledgment of people's lives with the excessive waiting times for a colonoscopy.

"I believe there's massive failings by the system. Who else are we supposed to turn to when we get sick? I find it very difficult to support the hospital with what I've been through."

His advice to Northlanders was to get a colonoscopy done.

"Get tested, don't be afraid. We live in an age where if you detect cancer early, you'll have much better results," he said.