Bowel screening programme moves to meet rural demands

So far 16 District Health Boards are involved.
So far 16 District Health Boards are involved. Photo credit: Getty

By Susan Murray of RNZ

Health officials are confident the rural areas still to be part of the National Bowel Screening programme will receive the support needed to make the rollout successful.

The programme involves screening kits being posted out to everyone over 60. So far 16 District Health Boards are involved - but some regions, like Northland and Bay of Plenty, are yet to be covered.

Recently, a Waikato rural GP expressed concern that a lack of engagement about the scheme with patients in-person could result in low uptake among many of his older Māori patients in particular.

He was also worried that slow post times would make it hard for samples to be returned for GP testing in the required timeframe.

GP leader in the programme John McMenamin said each DHB was responsible for tailoring programmes to suit its region and GPs had software programmes giving even more back-up for at-risk people.

He said the programme notified GPs if they had patients in a priority group associated with poorer health outcomes, such as Māori, Pasifika, and those in low socio-economic areas.

"You can pre-enrol them and there's an electronic tool which allows a GP to quickly send a message off to the programme and say 'please send this person a kit now, I've had a conversation and they want to participate'."

He acknowledged the postal service in some regions was slow but said it was up to DHBs to make sure such issues were overcome.

"What the testing showed is that on average all samples will definitely arrive within eight days and where there are specific areas of concern a particular way is used ... to make sure the samples would get there within that time frame."

DHBs were required to prove they had tested that system in a number of sites before they could be signed off for the programme, McMenamin said.

McMenamin said they carefully monitored screening results to see that everyone had equal access to the programme. He said uptake in rural communities had been as good as in urban centres, and all regions would be covered by the end of the year.