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Second anniversary of Southern DHB's National Bowel Screening Programme

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Two years after its inception, the Southern DHB’s National Bowel Screening Programme has already detected 177 cases of bowel cancer across the district. A further 1267 people have had polyps removed, many of which could have developed into cancer over time.

"These numbers reflect significant, real-life impacts,” says the Programme’s Clinical Leader, Dr Jason Hill. “They are reflective of lives saved and families spared losing loved ones. This programme will have long-term positive effects – by detecting and treating cancers early, we will reduce the future bowel cancer burden in our community.”

The Southern DHB programme’s second anniversary passed in late April, a milestone unmarked at the time due to the Covid-19 lockdown. To date, about 55,000 test kits have been sent out to Southern residents, and approximately 37,500 of those have been returned.

Participation rates remain high in the South at 73% overall, compared with 61% nationally. Notably, Māori participation is at 75% in the South – considerably higher than the national rate of 55%.

The National Bowel Screening Programme– which is free for those aged 60-74 who are eligible for publicly-funded health care – was paused during the COVID-19 response, but is now resuming regular activity.

“We’re advising those who received test kits in the mail before or during lockdown, to complete and return their kits as soon as possible,” says Southern DHB Programme Manager, Emma Bell, whose role was recently made permanent. “The test kits have a six month expiry date, so it’s important they’re sent back soon.”

Despite the pause in the distribution of invitations and test kits, results were still processed throughout the lockdown, and those who returned positive results are now being offered colonoscopies. Of those with positive tests, approximately 8% will have cancer.

“We’re working hard to clear the post-lockdown backlog so we can offer timely colonoscopies to everybody who returns a positive test result,” says Dr Jason Hill. “Currently, 94% of those people are receiving theirs within national target timeframe of 45 days, with a median wait time of 23 days.”

The National Bowel Screening Programme is an excellent way to detect bowel cancer earlier.

“We know sometimes people put off doing the test because they are scared of getting a positive result, but early diagnosis increases the chances of having straightforward and successful treatment,” says Dr Hill.

According to the Ministry of Health, those who receive early treatment have a 90% chance of long-term survival.