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Appointments mark new era for Screening Unit

Media Release - 20 February 2001

Appointments mark new era for National Screening Unit

An important landmark for the Ministry of Health's National Screening Unit was reached this week with the announcement by Director-General of Health Dr Karen Poutasi of the appointment of the Unit's new Group Manager and Clinical Director.

The new Group Manager is Karen Mitchell, while Dr Julia Peters takes the key position of Clinical Director.

Dr Poutasi said the two appointments are the first in a number of new appointments as the National Screening Unit is strengthened and developed into an autonomous business unit operating within the Ministry.

"Karen Mitchell is an experienced senior manager, who has worked in the UK for the past 11 years in a range of consultant, advisory and management roles within the health service. Most recently Karen was a senior manager at King's College Hospital in London."

"Dr Peters is someone who is known to many in the public health sector. As a public health physician and Manager of the HFA's National Screening Team, she led the team for over two years, during which time the national breastscreening programme was established and several key initiatives were carried out to strengthen the National Cervical Screening Programme. As Clinical Director, Julia will work with Karen to establish the new unit and will increasingly focus on the clinical and technical aspects of the two cancer screening programmes," Dr Poutasi said.

The National Screening Unit is responsible for carrying out all the national functions of the two population-based cancer screening programmes - the National Cervical Screening Programme (NCSP) and BreastScreen Aotearoa (BSA).

The Unit, which has offices in Auckland and Wellington, has a total budget of some $60 million and will have 33 staff once its restructuring is completed.

Dr Poutasi said the past two years had been a busy time for the Screening Team, dominated by several key projects. "The Unit has been focused on the development of comprehensive operational policies and quality standards for the NCSP, the ongoing development of the now two-year old BreastScreen Aotearoa and preparing the ground for the Unit's new structure."

The NCSP Interim Operational Policy and Quality Standards were sent out to all providers of the national programme including health promoters, smear takers and providers of laboratory and colposcopy services, in November last year. Laboratories will be required to comply with all operational policies and 21 quality standards described in the document.

"Their distribution was the culmination of 18 months of development work and consultation and signifies a major milestone in the growth of the programme. The team's focus has moved to working with providers to ensure implementation of the policies and standards.

"Another development that will come to fruition in the next few months will add to the quality mechanisms in place for the NCSP. This is the start of quantitative monitoring of the programme by the Independent Monitoring Group (NCSPIMG). This group of health experts and consumers will monitor data from the programme and identify any issues that may need to be addressed either by the National Unit or programme providers," Dr Poutasi said.

New Zealand women continue to show a strong commitment to the National Cervical Screening Programme. At the beginning of December 2000, more than 90% of eligible women aged 20 - 69 years were enrolled on the NCSP-Register.

Since the programme began there have been significant reductions in both the rates of disease and deaths from cervical cancer. In the 10 years from 1987 - 1996 cervical cancer incidence rates decreased by 22 per cent. From 1987 - 1996 the death rate for cervical cancer dropped by 43 percent. "The National Unit's focus on strengthening the programme through the development of comprehensive quality standards and an independent monitoring arm will build on these successes," Dr Poutasi said.

"The Ministry of Health has sought to build on the progress of recent years in the management and delivery of the country's two cancer control programmes. Through strengthening the National Screening Unit and establishing it as an independent unit within the Ministry, we are committed to ensuring the two programmes offer New Zealand women a service that compares with population based screening programmes elsewhere in the world," Dr Poutasi said.

Ends

For more information contact: Kallon Basham, Ph (04) 496 2385 or 025 897 521 Internet Address; http://www.moh.govt.nz

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