29 Apr 2014

Call for colonoscopies by nurses

1:29 pm on 29 April 2014

A professor of nursing at Massey University says nurses should be trained to carry out colonoscopies to ease pressure as demand grows for national screening for bowel cancer.

A health workforce symposium in Wellington on Wednesday heard there are about 9,500 thousand people waiting for a colonoscopy nationally at any one time, because of a shortage of specialists.

Demands are also growing for government to commit to a national screening programme for bowel cancer.

The Nurses Organisation says nurses could do colonoscopies safely with the right training and Massey University's Jenny Carryer agrees.

Professor Carryer says nurses are already doing such work in Britain and Australia.

The head of a bowel cancer screening programme, meanwhile, says nurses could be used to help meet demand for colonoscopy procedures, but that would not solve major workforce problems in the area.

Pilot programme leader, Waitemata surgeon Mike Hulme-Moir, says colonoscopies are risky and those doing them must be competent.

He says nurses could take it on, but wider changes will also be needed.

"I don't think nurse endoscopy actually is the magic bullet to solve our problems - it's one small facet of a very complicated situation."

Dr Hulme-Moir says coordinated national training of all endoscopists, including gastroenterologists and surgeons, is also needed.

Lobby group calls for urgent action

Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa says action is needed urgently to deliver a national screening for bowel cancer.

The lobby group attended the Wellington symbosium and chief executive, Megan Smith, says long-term solutions could include nurses trained as endoscopists, but more immediately spare capacity in the private sector could be used:

"People deserve and need to have colonoscopies so that they have the chance to be diagnosed with early stage bowel cancer when they are curable."