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Bowel screening move welcomed

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 26/05/2016

The government's got a date to begin the roll-out of a national bowel screening programme.

This year's budget sets aside just over $39 million over four years for the staged roll-out of the programme, starting with Hutt Valley and Wairarapa district health boards early next year.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says once fully implemented - hopefully by the end of 2019 - the programme is expected to screen over 700,000 people every two years.

"We know that bowel screening saves lives by detecting cancers at an early stage when they can more easily be treated," he said.

"Around 3000 New Zealanders are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year. The government is committed to better access to early detection and treatment."

A business case for the bowel screening programme roll-out is still to go to cabinet.

But once the programme is in place, DHBs will offer people aged 60 to 74 a bowel screening test every two years.

Dr Coleman said there will be a sufficient clinical workforce to cope with the demand of additional colonoscopies.

"Part of the reason why we've had to take this staged approach is to make sure we've got the workforce to deliver it and we have," he told reporters.

Labour's health spokeswoman Annette King says the announcement is good news, but she questioned why it's taken so long.

She told NZ Newswire the roll-out kick-off in the areas with the highest prevalance of bowel cancer - in the South Island and the Waikato.

Bowel Cancer New Zealand has welcomed Dr Coleman's announcement.

"Today's announcement will begin to turn around our world-worst bowel cancer death rates," spokeswoman Sarah Derrett said.

However, she wants screening to begin at the age of 50.

"International best practice is to screen those aged 50 to 74 years of age. While we wait for full nationwide implementation across this age range lives will continue to be needlessly lost."

A pilot screening programme has been running at Waitemata DHB since 2012.

The government has also set aside additional contingency funding to enable the IT support needed for a national screening programme.

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