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National Bowel Screening Programme to be reviewed

Hon Dr David Clark, Minister of Health:

Minister of Health Dr David Clark has ordered an independent review of the National Bowel Screening Programme.

The free screening programme is being rolled-out in stages around the country, with three DHBs currently on board. It is due to be in place nationwide by mid-2021.

“During the pilot programme, which ran from 2011 to the end of last year, issues were identified with the updating of addresses that resulted in some people not receiving their invitations to be screened. I want to be assured that everything possible is done to avoid these sort of issues happening again,” says Dr Clark.

Last year, the Ministry of Health wrote to about 2,500 people who had not received screening invitations due to the issue. Three people may have been impacted by the delay and have gone on to develop bowel cancer. One of those people has sadly died.

According to the Ministry’s clinical advice, it was not possible to say whether the outcomes for any of the three people would have been different if they had received their invitations, but their cancers might have been detected earlier if they had chosen to be screened.
Since the issue was discovered addresses have been manually updated in the National Bowel Screening Register by cross referencing with the National Health Index. Work is ongoing looking at address records to ensure all errors are being identified.

“The Ministry of Health has taken full responsibility for this matter. As Minister of Health I also apologise unreservedly.

“The independent review will look at a broad range of factors, including information technology, DHB capacity, operational management and clinical matters.

“We know that screening saves lives. It is important that the public have confidence that we are delivering a safe and effective programme and this review will help ensure just that,” says Dr Clark.

The roll-out of the National Bowel Screening Programme will continue during the review. The review is expected to be complete by June.

NOTE: Terms of Reference for the review are being finalised.

Background information:
• Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand.

• More than 3000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1200 die from the disease.

• Bowel screening detects cancers at an earlier stage where they can often be more successfully treated.

The National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP):
• The National Bowel Screening Programme is being rolled out progressively throughout New Zealand.

• Once fully implemented it will offer free screening to all eligible New Zealanders aged 60-74 years.

• Waitemata, Hutt Valley and Wairarapa DHBs now offer free screening.

• Southern and Counties Manukau DHBs will be underway by the end of June, followed by Nelson Marlborough, Lakes and Hawkes Bay in November.

• The remaining DHBs will progressively join the NBSP which is expected to be fully implemented by the end of the 2020/21 financial year.

• Once fully implemented the NBSP will invite 700,000 New Zealanders to participate in bowel screening every two years.

• Approximately 500-700 cancers each year are expected to be detected initially once the programme is fully rolled out.

• Screening is for people who do not have symptoms of bowel cancer. Anyone with symptoms should see their doctor.

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