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Bowel cancer services in poor shape

Jackie Blue MP
National Party Associate Health Spokeswoman

08 January 2008

Bowel cancer services in poor shape

A survey of the way District Health Boards deal with bowel cancer has thrown up more evidence of healthcare by postcode, says National Party Associate Health spokeswoman Jackie Blue.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. More than 2,700 people are diagnosed every year and half as many die from it on an annual basis.

"Ten years ago experts warned that there was an urgent need to expand colonoscopy* services but those warnings have clearly been ignored. Instead a feasibility study has started.

"Now experts are saying the need is immediate and urgent. However, if New Zealand is to offer a reliable screening programme, colonoscopy capacity would have to increase by 60% from 2005 figures. Why is the Government not planning for this?

"According to my informal survey, the number of colonoscopies performed since 2004 has only increased marginally.

"My research confirms that some DHBs have been going backwards or making little progress.

"For instance, in the South Island, Otago and Canterbury have one of the highest bowel cancer rates in the country, but they are no longer offering surveillance colonoscopy for those at high risk. This means people in families with a history of bowel cancer can no longer get regular checks in the public system.

"At Counties-Manukau, Taranaki, Otago and Southland the number of colonoscopies done since 2004 have actually dropped and at Auckland DHB, the number has barely changed.

"My research also discovered variability in data collection and waiting times."

Dr Blue says Australia and the UK are taking bowel cancer far more seriously and are gearing up for national screening programmes.

"In New Zealand prompt diagnosis depends on where you live, even if you have a family history. Until we boost our services and get consistency, a reliable national screening programme will remain an impossible dream."


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