Shitty health decisions

Shitty health decisions

The Ministry of Health is in the firing line of Otago professors due to its reluctance to introduce a bowel cancer-screening pilot programme nationwide, despite the programme’s proven success.

University of Otago health services researcher Dr Sarah Derrett, also on the Board of the patient- and family-led charity Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa, stated that the pilot screening in Waitemata has in the past year alone found 60 cancers and removed many more cancerous growths that would have otherwise gone undetected until symptoms were noticed.

Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa is calling for the Ministry of Health to begin the introduction of the pilot-screening programme nationwide before the four-year trial is up. “The government wants to take a cautious approach and wants to run the demonstrably excellent screening programme for four years before making a decision about introducing it,” Derrett told Critic. “A national screening programme could save as many as 400 people every year – that’s many more than the road toll.”

The pilot has been running for a year in Waitemata and is currently targeted at people aged 50-74 years. A national screening programme would allow for all New Zealanders in this age group to take part, not just those in Waitemata.

“New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer internationally, so we should all be aware of it,” Derrett warns. On average, 1,200 people die of bowel cancer annually in New Zealand and people as young as 20 are being diagnosed with the disease.

The chief benefit of the pilot screener is that it can detect cancer in people who are yet to display symptoms. Detection at an earlier stage makes the cancer much more treatable. “Bowel cancer can be a silent killer because often people do not have symptoms or do not recognise the symptoms,” Derrett says.

Beat Bowel Cancer National Awareness week is being held on 3-9 June.
This article first appeared in Issue 12, 2013.
Posted 1:24pm Sunday 19th May 2013 by Bella Macdonald.