The Government is being accused of dragging the chain on bowel cancer screening programmes and so denying hundreds of people access to early - and potentially life-saving - diagnosis of the disease.
Megan Smith, formerly of Wanganui, heads Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa (BBCA), a patient and family-led charity organisation, and she told the Chronicle the Minister of Health Tony Ryall was "dithering".
Ms Smith said the pilot scheme at Waitemata District Health Board that began in 2011, was "a step in the right direction" but said now was the time for government to roll out the scheme nation-wide.
"During the time the pilot has run in Waitemata there have been lower-than-average registrations of those showing signs of bowel cancer and death from the disease.
"It's worthwhile from our perspective because early diagnosis gives the chance of treatment and a full recovery. Meanwhile, for the rest of the country that diagnosis is coming too late," she said.
Ms Smith said Mr Ryall had cited issues around workforce levels to handle the screening as the reason why the programme was not being rolled out at this stage.
"This difficulty I have with that is that there are plenty of endoscopy units in private settings so why can't the Government look at a sharing situation and make funding available so patients can be screened," she said.
She said the Southern DHB took a pro-active stance and had staff working weekends to clear a backlog of patients who needed to be screened "so there are solutions available and Government just needs to get it done".
She said the BBCA organisation reckons at least 1000 Kiwis will die unnecessarily from bowel cancer while the Government delays rolling out a national screening programme.
"With an evaluation of the pilot not due until 2016 and several more years before a national programme is introduced, New Zealanders will continue to die from a disease that is treatable and beatable if caught early." Ms Smith said that as a result of the free screening pilot, 129 people who had a colonoscopy were found to have cancer.
"Although the results reflect an increased awareness of bowel cancer and a willingness to be screened, particularly in the Waitemata DHB area, a significant number of New Zealanders will die as a result of further delay to implement a national screening programme," she said.
BBCA believes all New Zealanders in the recommended age group (50-74 years) should have the opportunity to screen for bowel cancer.
Ms Smith said each year, as many Kiwis will lose their lives to bowel cancer as breast and prostate cancer combined and four times as many as the national road toll.
She said in the absence of a national screening programme, people in the recommended age group (50-74) or have a family history should speak to their doctor about screening.
Alternatively, bowel screening test kits can be purchased over the counter at Pharmacybrands pharmacies. A secure online purchase can be done through the website www.beatbowelcancer.org.nz