Screening letters going out

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Exciting challenge ahead . . . Dunedin Hospital gastroenterology clinical leader Dr Jason Hill is looking forward to the challenge of simultaneously moving into the hospital's gastroenterology unit and embarking on the roll out of bowel screening in the coming months. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

The opening of the new, expanded gastroenterology unit at Dunedin Hospital is set to coincide with the roll-out of the national bowel screening programme across the southern region.

From Tuesday, eligible people aged 60 to 74 throughout the Southern District Health Board area will be invited to participate in bowel screening. It will be the start of a two-year roll-out of the programme.

It is an exciting and challenging time for Southern DHB bowel screening clinical leader Dr Jason Hill and his team, who expect to receive the keys to the eighth-floor gastro unit on May 22.

By the time the team has settled in and run through some operational testing, the unit should be ready to receive the first of the screened patients for endoscopies in early June.

“Everyone is very excited about the new unit – it has been a long time coming,” Dr Hill said.

After lobbying for a national bowel-screening programme and a new gastroenterology unit for many years, the launch of both was “validating” for him and his team.

“We’ve known for a long time that we can do this and do it well,” he said.

“This for us is the single-most important intervention we can offer our population to reduce the burden of bowel cancer in an area where there is high rates.”

Foresight and planning had resulted in extra medical and nursing staff being put in place and ready to deal with the estimated 800 extra referrals for colonoscopies coming through the screening programme each year, Dr Hill said.

“We predicted the additional resources required and the biggest constraint for us was space – and that will be addressed in four weeks,” Dr Hill said.

The 800 figure was based on a 65%-70% participation rate among the 51,000 people eligible for bowel screening, leading to about 35,000 results, of which 7.5% were expected to return a positive FIT test.

“Of course, it’s all modelling at the moment – we won’t know for sure until we get started.”

The 800 figure also assumed everyone who returned a positive test decided to receive a colonoscopy via the public health system, he said.

However, with the large rural hinterland in the Southern DHB’s area, some people might choose to go private.

“Regardless, we have planned that every patient that tests positive could be offered a colonoscopy within the public system,” Dr Hill said.

The planning for the Dunedin Hospital rebuild has created extra work for Dr Hill at a busy time, but he sees it as another exciting opportunity.

‘The challenge is to imagine what a new endoscopy unit will be like in 15 years’ time, as technology and procedures continue to develop,” he said.

“Probably in 15 to 20 years’ time, procedures that are now done by open surgery will be done by endoscopy.

“The challenge is knowing where we might be, what the population will be and what we will need to deliver.”

With strong support from across the Southern DHB, including surgery, radiology, oncology and laboratories, he believed the first South Island roll-out of the national bowel screening programme would be successful.

“We have committed ourselves to providing the most equitable, consumer-friendly programme that we can .. and we think we can do it well.”

The Southern DHB was urging people to ensure their details were up to date with their GP, and was working to raise awareness of the screening programme across the whole community.

“We want everyone who is eligible to have the same opportunity for a successful outcome,” Dr Hill said.