9 Apr 2021

Bowel screening programme missing the mark - Rural GP

8:47 pm on 9 April 2021

A rural GP says the nationwide bowel screening programme will miss the mark with his patient group and its success will be limited.

Kawhia GP Dr John Burton

Kawhia GP Dr John Burton Photo: RNZ / Joanne O'Brien

The screening programme aims to save lives through early detection and it has just started being rolled out in Waikato this month. This brings the number of DHBs now offering bowel screening to 15.

It involves a self testing kit, which is posted out to people aged between 60 and 74.

Kawhia GP John Burton said he was thrilled the programme had arrived locally at last, but believed it had huge design flaws.

Dr Burton said it would be better if rural health clinics were involved well before the first letter arrived in mailboxes, out of the blue. He said in his experience, people appreciated having a professional explaining what was required of them.

"The collection of the specimen, it looks like quite a cool way of doing it, but again if that could've been explained personally to people, you would get a much better uptake and I'm particularly worried about Māori patients and the older Māori patients."

Postage from rural areas was also concern, Dr Burton said sometimes it could take upwards of a week for mail to reach Auckland.

"It may be that there are better ways of doing it than using the post, we are going to find that quite a few of the samples take more than the required seven days to get to Auckland for processing."

Dr Burton said another difficulty is the follow-up method for non-reponding people.

There are three follow-up phone calls and then a visit if the calls have not worked.

But he said "that will also be a waste of money.

"People could drive an hour and a half and find the person they spoke to in the morning is no longer at home," he said.

He said organisers may re-look at how the programme runs when they see sectors of a population are missed out, but there are simple improvements that could be made immediately.

Dr Burton said the programme may work in cities, but not in remote rural areas.

A 2017 report prepared for the Ministry of Health showed Māori are 30 percent less likely than non-Māori to get bowel cancer but once diagnosed are 30 percent more likely to die from bowel cancer.