The Ministry of Health has been forced to apologise after it sent invitations to 1200 people to take part in a bowel cancer screening programme - despite them already having the disease.
The Ministry of Health's National Bowel Screening Programme said some people received the letters even though they had the disease or previously had it.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the letters were generated by a computer fault and sent without the appropriate automatic filtering.
He said coping with cancer was uncertain and stressful and the Ministry was sorry to have added to that distress.
The letters were sent out to people in Tairāwhiti, Canterbury and South Canterbury DHBs from 11 to 13 November.
The Ministry has since received more than 300 complaints from recipients.
Chief medical officer Andrew Simpson said the error was caused by a computer glitch.
"We get regular uploads from the cancer registry the aim of which is to make sure we don't send letters out to people who've had bowel cancer.
"Unfortunately ... as it was processed it wasn't processed normally and so the data wasn't recognised, and therefore people were identified for letters that shouldn't have been."
Dr Simpson said the Ministry of Health had apologised for the error and checks were in place to ensure it did not happen again.