Southern District Health Board refuses colonoscopy test to a woman with bowel cancer symptoms

Veronica Corbin lives in fear that she is dying of bowel cancer. 

"It is always on your mind; what is going on?" she says.

She knows something is wrong, and she has ongoing symptoms.

"Well I had bleeding from my bowel for some time," she told Newshub. "Definite changes in bowel habits and abdominal pain."

Corbin is a nurse, so she's all too aware of how bad it could be.

But she's been refused a colonoscopy - the test that would diagnose cancer.

Surgeon Phil Bagshaw.
Surgeon Phil Bagshaw. Photo credit: Frank Film

In a scathing report on colonoscopy services, surgeon 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.

"I can't let it get to me because I have still got two young kids," Corbin said.

The 43-year-old is a solo mum and grandmother. She's got four kids - two teenagers still at home. 

"I don't want them to be afraid," she told Newshub.

Yet the anxiety is always there - the bleeding is ongoing.

"I go to the bathroom and I am reminded things aren't normal," she said.

She's already had melanoma - and there's cancer in her family.

"My mum and sister passed away from blood cancer."

She first saw her GP over a year ago, and her specialist, Murray Pfeifer, ordered a colonoscopy before Christmas - seven months ago.

But his expert opinion was overruled - and the colonoscopy declined by the Southern District Health Board - because it can't meet the demand.

Now, In a rare move, Pfeifer and his surgical colleagues are speaking out against the DHB.

"We worry about the harm to Veronica," he told Newshub.

And Corbin's not alone. 

"We are speaking out because we feel such frustrations for our patients," Pfeifer said. "Patients we believe are being harmed."

That "harm" expresses itself through anxiety, or through not getting treatment early enough, even causing death.

Corbin's only option is to go private - the cost is $3000, which she can't afford. 

"It would take me a long time to save that," she told Newshub.

But going public has helped - Southern DHB chief medical officer Nigel Millar has offered to review her case.

"I don't think I can talk about her case specifically," he told Newshub. "I'm not one of the clinicians involved. 

"It would be inappropriate of me to make a guess around that." 

Millar said the DHB would be "very happy to look at her case if she wants us to". 

So for Corbin, there's some hope, but still a lot of fear.