Bowel screening pilot begins in Waitemata

  • Tony Ryall

The four year bowel screening pilot has been launched by National MP, Dr Jackie Blue on behalf of Health Minister Tony Ryall at Waitemata DHB in Auckland today.

The $24 million pilot will provide vital information which will help determine whether a bowel screening programme should be rolled out nationally.

Mr Ryall says, "This is an important milestone for New Zealand. We know from overseas experience that bowel screening can help save lives.

"We will learn a great deal from this pilot about how acceptable bowel screening is to the New Zealand population and how many additional colonoscopies would be required for a national programme.

Bowel screening programmes are either running or being piloted in Australia, the United Kingdom, Korea, Japan and most countries in the European Union. Ireland has recently announced a delay to the start of its national bowel screening programme because it has insufficient capacity to deliver the number of colonoscopies required.

Mr Ryall says, "In the first phase of the pilot, 500 people in the eligible 50 to 74 year age range will be randomly selected from two GP practices and invited to participate.

"This group will be tracked through the screening programme processes to ensure all systems are working well and the programme is safe for participants before invitations are sent out more widely."

Participants will be sent a simple test kit through the post that they can complete at home and post back to the laboratory for analysis.

They will receive their results within three weeks. People will be offered a colonoscopy if their test result indicates they need further investigation.

Mr Ryall says, "Colonoscopies for the pilot will be performed at the programme's dedicated endoscopy facility at Waitakere Hospital, which has capacity to deliver about 50 colonoscopies a week."

Once the pilot is in full swing, about 1300 invitations and test kits will be sent out every week.

"This is the first screening programme to use a population register to identify people who are eligible to take part, and it is the first cancer screening programme to involve men," says Mr Ryall.

“It also has significant involvement from GPs, who will play a key role in informing their patients about the programme, encouraging them to take part and supporting them through the different steps."

The pilot will be strictly monitored to ensure it is meeting its objectives, and independently evaluated to determine its effectiveness, including cost effectiveness.

Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in New Zealand, and the second highest cause of cancer death. If detected and treated early, there is a very good chance of survival.