Kiri Allan's cancer diagnosis didn't push Govt's decision on HPV self-swab - Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government was working towards a new cervical cancer screening test before Cabinet Minister Kiri Allan's shock cancer diagnosis.

The 37-year-old Minister of Conservation and Emergency Management revealed in a Facebook post in April she had been diagnosed with stage 3 cervical cancer, which she had initially delayed getting checked for.

The news sparked calls from advocates urging the Government to consider HPV self-testing, which could help women overcome the reservation about getting smear tests.

On Sunday Health Minister Andrew Little announced the 2021 Budget will provide a new self-swab test for human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that is responsible for 99 percent of cervical cancers. 

Speaking to The AM Show on Monday, Ardern confirmed Allan's diagnosis had not pushed the self-swab along.

"No, this was part of our budget work," she said.

"This was our first announcement that was a part of this year's budget. Obviously, quite a bit of work has gone into it. This is us responding to those calls for us to bring in a form of screening that we hope will lift the number of women involved in the screening programme of course we have existing screening but we are not reaching everyone."

Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said the new system will make a "real difference" for women, particularly wāhine Māori, who may prefer to take screening tests themselves.

She estimated the new system will prevent "about 400 additional cervical cancers over 17 years and will save around 138 additional lives". 

However, the new system is expected to take around two years to get up and running, which Ardern said is due to the complete overhaul of procedures.

"It is a very different system and at the moment women at the moment visit their GP for screening but this will switch to a system where over time we hope to be able to conduct these tests at home. But in order to do this, we need both the clinician feedback and the training, we need to have the system where women first are visiting their GP, their clinician, so we know how to undertake the test ourselves. We also have an IT system which can run across the country to make sure that we recall people for testing when we need. We don't want to transition from what is, by and large, a very good system to something that has holes in it and therefore risks lie."

She couldn't guarantee that it will definitely only take two years maximum, saying getting the system right was more critical than time-frame.

"We hope [it doesn't take longer]. We do have experience to draw on - we do have bowel screening which has adopted this idea of at-home testing so we have an experience to draw on so we hope this won't take a lot of time but setting up the infrastructure to get this right will be very critical."