National Bowel Screening Programme

The first national screening programme in New Zealand for both men and women is set to begin rolling out in July.

Residents in Wairarapa and Hutt Valley who are aged 60-74, and are eligible for publicly funded health care, will be the first to be invited to take part in the free National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP). Other District Health Boards will join in stages over the next three years.

The invitation-based screening programme involves participants doing a simple faecal immunochemical test (FIT) at home, and returning it in a pre-paid envelope for laboratory testing.

The screening test, along with any further investigations (such as colonoscopy) and treatments organised within the public health system, are free.
Those who are eligible will be invited to be screened every two years.

The programme’s clinical director, Dr Susan Parry, says “Every year more than 3000 New Zealanders are diagnosed with bowel cancer and more than 1200 die from it.
“Within the bowel screening pilot around 45% of the detected cancers were stage 1 cancers. The National Bowel Screening Programme will save lives as a result of this cancer stage shift at diagnosis.”

Dr John Childs is a radiation oncologist and the chair of the Ministry of Health’s Bowel Screening Advisory Group.
He says, “New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world and bowel cancer screening is a key to reducing cancer rates.
“A well organised screening pathway and sufficient high quality colonoscopy capacity are essential components of the program.

“To achieve the maximum early cancer detection rates the programme needs to be carefully implemented; it is important to minimise inequalities and maximise safety for participants.

For further information on the NBSP, including about the test itself, who should be screened, and indicative roll-out dates for DHBs, go to bowelscreening.health.govt.nz, or email bowelcancerteam@moh.govt.nz

You can subscribe to the NBSP Update newsletter via the National Screening Unit website.