Southern DHB has highest rate of bowel cancer, lowest rate of colonoscopy procedures

An eminent Christchurch surgeon says the Southern District Health Board has lost the war against bowel cancer.

 In a scathing report on colonoscopy services, Phil Bagshaw says Otago and Southland have the highest rates of bowel cancer in the country, yet one of the lowest rates of colonoscopy procedures.

He says if the dysfunctional services at the Southern DHB aren't addressed, he'll be calling for a public inquiry.

The Southern Medical Officer of Health Nigel Miller is fronting up to a scathing report on the organisation's bowel cancer failures. 

"Where we have let people down, we will have no hesitation in apologising," he said.

Surgeon Phil Bagshaw, the reports' author, is refusing to back down.

"The Southern DHB has basically lost the war against bowel cancer," he said on Friday.

Southland has the highest rate of bowel cancer in the country, one of the highest rates of cancer spreading beyond the bowel at time of diagnosis and the highest incidence of emergency surgery for it.

"And they've got one of the lowest colonoscopy rates. It's the perfect storm, really," said Bagshaw.

Jackie Howard had issues with the services as long as ten years ago. It took her two years from presenting with symptoms to finally get a colonoscopy and be diagnosed with bowel cancer that had spread to her liver.

"There were massive issues going on with the gastro department," she told Newshub.

The report points out lengthy delays for patients needing colonoscopies who went on to die from their cancer and major inter-service warfare between clinicians - an issue known to management but not dealt with.

The DHB insists the colonoscopy services have not been a failure on their part.

But it's making changes, including dealing with warring staff.

"We haven't decided not to implement anything at the moment, we're focussing on the things they can do straight away that make a difference," said Miller.

But Bagshaw says the DHB has failed.

"The facts speak for themselves; the facts say they've done badly," he said.

"If they're not going to take responsibility I think the only other option we'd have would be to call for a public inquiry."

Bagshaw will be quick to move if services don't improve.

"The good thing about bowel cancer, if there is a good thing is if it's detected early, it is curable."

But this is too little too late for patients already dead from their disease.