Bowel screen official launch

Auspicious day . . . Celebrating the official launch of the National Bowel Screening Programme at the Southern District Health Board on Tuesday are bowel screening programme manager Emma Bell and clinical leader Dr Jason Hill. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

High rates of bowel cancer in the South will be tackled head-on following Tuesday’s launch of the National Bowel Screening Programme across the Southern District Health Board.

Beginning this week, invitation letters and test kits will be sent out to the first of about 51,000 people aged 60 to 74 in Otago and Southland.

The programme, aimed at people with no symptoms of bowel cancer, will take two years to roll out.

Speaking at Tuesday’s launch at Dunedin Hospital, SDHB commissioner Kathy Grant said launching the programme was the result of significant effort from staff and the community.

Bowel screening programme clinical leader Dr Jason Hill said it would be “the single most important intervention we can offer our population to reduce bowel cancer over the next 20 to 30 years”.

“Now it is important to remind our friends and whanau that, when those invitations come to the door, they need to participate.”

Dr Hill paid tribute to his team and colleagues across the SDHB for the huge amount of foresight and planning that had gone into preparing for the screening programme roll-out.

He also expressed his delight that the new gastroenterology unit at Dunedin Hospital would be open in four weeks, ready to deal with an expected 750-plus extra colonoscopies.

SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said it was “an auspicious day”, and he hoped that the screening programme would help to ensure that everybody came to understand the need to be vigilant about bowel cancer.

Visiting for launch events in Dunedin and Invercargill, Ministry of Health national bowel screening clinical lead Dr Susan Parry spoke about her previous work as a gastroenterologist.

After diagnosing too many cases of advanced bowel cancer, she began to think “there has got to be another way for New Zealand”.

It was a challenge to roll out the screening programme, and Dr Parry expressed “huge thanks” from the ministry for the work of everyone involved.

Speaking to The Star after the launch, Dr Hill said he felt vindicated for his years of lobbying on the issue, and was looking forward to “getting into it”.

Dr Parry said she had been watching progress on the building of the new gastroenterology unit at Dunedin Hospital closely, and it had been exciting to visit the construction site during her visit.

The SDHB will be the first in the South Island and fourth in New Zealand to roll out the bowel screening programme behind Hutt, Wairarapa and Waitemata.

“Southern has its own set of challenges, in terms of the sheer size it must cover, and the high rates of bowel cancer in the region,” Dr Parry said.

Over the next two years, it was expected an extra 100 cases of bowel cancer would be detected through the screening programme.

People aged 60 to 74 are being urged to ensure their details are up to date with their GP.