Fears delays to bowel screening could be deadly

Fears delays to bowel screening could be deadly
Photo credit: Getty

By Rowan Quinn of RNZ

National screening for one of the country's deadliest cancers will not start again until the end of June, with advocates fearing the delay could cost lives.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening programme sends home testing kits to people aged between 60 and 74.

It stopped sending out the kits as the lockdown hit in late March and would not resume sending them until the end of June.

The delay was because health services needed to clear the backlog of patients who could not have more extensive tests under level 4 when colonoscopies stopped.

"DHBs are giving priority to people needing urgent investigation and then moving on to people who have had a positive screening test," the programme's website said.

A spokesperson for the advocacy group, Bowel Cancer NZ, Mary Bradley, said the delays could be deadly.

"In those few months people can go from having an outcome that is survivable and beatable to having an outcome that is terminal," she said.

It had taken so long to get the screening up and running and it was frustrating to see it delayed, she said.

Health authorities should work more with the private sector to clear the backlog of colonoscopies and get the screening happening faster, Bradley said.

The Cancer Control Agency is tasked with ending inequitable cancer care.

Its chief executive Diana Sarfati said it was a difficult situation for health services to balance.

They had to make sure those who had already had a positive screening test or who had been referred by their doctors were prioritised, she said.

"It's important that we don't start screening to the detriment of people who have, for example, symptoms of cancer or need follow up from a previous diagnosis of cancer."

Testing had resumed for kits that had been sent out before the lockdown, so people could send those back for analysis, the screening programme said on its website.

Anyone who had symptoms or had been referred by their GP would still be tested and anyone who was worried should contact their doctor, it said.