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Tragic History Set To Repeat

Tragic History Set To Repeat

New Zealand Health Spokesman Heather Roy has expressed concern over the Health (Screening Programmes) Amendment Bill - on which the Health Select Committee has today heard submissions - and said the Bill raises questions about whether the Ministry will re-establish the same flawed system it currently has in place.

"This Bill proposes to alter the operation of the current National Cervical Screening Programme. It allows for the establishment of other health screening programmes, and offers a major change in the way patients are enrolled - patients who have smears will be enrolled automatically, but may `opt out', rather than the current `opt in'," Mrs Roy said.

"Last week, the Health Ministry reported delays in audit report-back, following the Gisborne cervical screening inquiry. Dr Bottrill was part of the Ministry's Cervical Screening Programme. Years later, the audit is still incomplete, raising serious questions - not only about why the audit has taken so long but, about why the Ministry had this responsibility.

The new Bill proposes the same set up as the current flawed system. Risks include that of high compliance costs hitting the health professionals taking the smears. They would be forced to pass those costs onto patients - if the cost proves too great, many patients will `opt off' the programme.

"In essence, this is a Government Bill recommending that the Ministry do everything. At the very least, independent evaluators and auditors should be used to assess the effectiveness of any programme.

"For the Health Ministry to set up, run, report on and audit any programme - and to say it has done a fine job - is clearly unacceptable. Independent evaluation and audit are essential for any screening programme - without transparency of this kind, participants cannot have faith that their programmes are operating effectively.

"Independent experts believe it is better to have no screening programme at all, rather than one that is fundamentally flawed from the start, Mrs Roy said.

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