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Cancer Society Position On Cervical Screening

Report Reinforces Cancer Society Position On Cervical Screening

An independent report by an international expert has reinforced the Cancer Society’s concerns about the location of the National Cervical Screening Unit within the Ministry of Health.

The report, “Progress in Implementing the Cervical Screening Inquiry Recommendations”, by Dr Euphemia McGoogan , was commissioned by the Minister of Health to provide independent expert advice on progress in implementing the Gisborne Inquiry recommendations.

Cancer Society spokesperson Betsy Marshall said the Society agreed with the view expressed in the report that the National Screening Unit has put a tremendous effort into improving the quality of the National Cervical Screening Programme.

“We are also reassured that she found no evidence to suggest that the National Cervical Screening Programme is below an acceptable quality standard,” Ms Marshall said.

However the Cancer Society concurred with the concerns raised in the report about the location of the screening unit.

“Dr McGoogan states “Many individuals expressed their concerns to me about this new home for the National Screening unit (within the Ministry of Health) but no-one could suggest a more suitable location for it at present. There does not seem to be a natural home for screening units currently within the New Zealand healthcare system’.”

Problems Dr McGoogan cites related to the location of the National Screening Unit in the Ministry of Health are:

- The Unit is not independent (as stipulated by the Inquiry Recommendations)

- The Unit is “constrained by generic Ministry rules, policies and processes”

- The Unit is often “consumed by other Ministry-related responsibilities”(“Responding to ministerial inquiries alone consumes an enormous amount of time and effort” and “results in the Unit responding in a timeframe set by political imperatives to the detriment of other¡Kwork”)

- The Unit has difficulties in recruiting appropriately trained staff” (“taking up a post in the Ministry of Health is apparently not perceived to be a good career move”)

- “There appears to be no real understanding or sympathy within the Ministry of Health for the wide-ranging nature, volume or intensity of work of the Unit.”

In its submission to the Inquiry, the Cancer Society argued that the best way to ensure the stability and strength of the National Screening Unit is to site it within a separate national cancer control agency.

One of the key roles of such an agency would be implementation of a national cancer control strategy. The Cancer Society is currently supporting the New Zealand Cancer Control Trust in its work with the Ministry of Health to develop such a strategy.

“We believe that being within an agency dedicated to the control of cancer, rather than a Ministry with its wide range of functions, would address the concerns raised by Dr McGoogan,” Ms Marshall says.

The Cancer Society says until such an agency can be established, the unit must have greater independence, as recommended by Dr McGoogan.

“We also share Dr McGoogan’s concerns about the management structure of the unit and believe it should be reviewed,” she says.

“As Dr McGoogan acknowledges, the major reduction in the incidence of cervical cancer in New Zealand suggests that the NCSP is doing well. In the Society’s view, critical factors in sustaining this progress include strengthening the independence of the National Screening Unit, reviewing its management structure and ultimately moving it out of the Ministry of Health and into a separate national cancer control agency.”


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