The Ministry of Health has hit back at claims its roll-out of the free national bowel screening programme is facing delays, saying it is still on track.

Earlier the Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust claimed the programme was to be further delayed by three years.

Thousands of people would be affected by the delay to the roll-out of the programme, which was due to be in place nationwide by 2021.

However, the Ministry of Health has this afternoon said the programme is on track, and will be rolled out by 2021.

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"The roll-out remains on track for all DHBs to have rolled out the national bowel screening programme by 2021," group manager national screening unit, Astrid Koornneef, said.

"The Ministry will be in contact with the Foundation to confirm that."

It comes after the Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust's chief executive Georgina Mason said bowel cancer sufferers and their families would face a further blow last week's Budget, which promised more funding for district health boards (DHBs) and an extension to the bowel screening programme, but a delay in implementing it.

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"The Budget has promised to deliver four more DHBs in 2019 ready to join the national bowel screening programme, with Whanganui DHB and Mid Central already planned for the end of the year when their new IT system goes live," Mason said.

"The Budget has indicated there will be a further two DHBs ready to join every year, after suggesting a delay of three years to the already overdue screening programme."

She added: "With the remaining 12 DHBs not ready to function effectively until at least 2024, last week's Wellbeing Budget is extremely disappointing for bowel cancer sufferers across the nation."

This afternoon she stood by her claims, saying the trust's analysis of the Budget documentation stacked up.

The national programme is designed for those aged 60 to 74, and will see a free test kit sent to eligible participants every two years. The simple test can be done at home, and then sent away for analysis. It is expected to detect between 500 and 700 bowel cancers a year. It is currently available in eight of the 20 DHBs.

The screening test is seen as vital to saving lives, as it can detect bowel cancer in its early stages, when it can often by successfully treated. Bowel cancer is otherwise difficult to detect, and may have no early symptoms. It untreated if can spread to other vital organs.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. It is the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand, behind lung cancer. More than 3000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1200 die from the disease.

Similar screening programmes are being rolled out in other countries around the world, including Australia. The UK has had its national bowel screening programme in place for 10 years.