The Ministry of Health has discovered that many more people than first thought didn’t receive invitations for free bowel screening during the bowel screening pilot programme.
The pilot invited almost 200,000 Waitemata residents between 2011 and January 2017 and successfully screened 117,000 but the Ministry says about 15,000 may have missed out (this includes the 2,500 previously publicised).
National Screening Unit Clinical Director, Dr Jane O’Hallahan, says the Ministry takes full responsibility for the oversights, which were a result of pilot IT issues and human error. She says the Ministry will continue to contact those affected to apologise and invite them for screening over the coming months.
“Initial analysis has shown that more than 30 of these people have developed bowel cancer. As previously, we will undertake clinical reviews to determine if the delay in screening could have made a difference to their outcomes."
Dr O’Hallahan says the National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP) is New Zealand’s first screening programme that has attempted to enrol all eligible people in the population. She says this was an ambitious task for the Ministry team that set up the pilot.
“Tracing people who didn’t have up-to-date addresses in the National Health Index (NHI) has been a challenge and, at the time of the pilot, our systems for updating records in the bowel screening register from the NHI could have been better. We have clearly failed some people and for that we are sorry.
“I want to emphasise these issues are only related to the pilot phase of the programme and residents in Waitemata District Health Board. We have refined and improved our processes for the NBSP is currently being rolled out around the country.”
The Minister of Health, Dr David Clark, ordered an independent review into the National Bowel Screening Programme after it was revealed earlier this year that 2500 Waitemata residents missed out on an invitation for bowel screening. Dr O’Hallahan says the review team, led by Professor Gregor Coster, has been made aware of the higher numbers of people now thought to be impacted by the Ministry’s pilot issues.
“Naturally, we support the need to affirm public confidence in the national programme and the issues that have come to light with the pilot will be part of that review. The Minister of Health has said that while the review is underway the national programme rollout will continue,” says Dr O’Hallahan.
Dr O’Hallahan says the Ministry welcomes the review and is confident its recommendations will lead to ongoing improvements. In the meantime she encourages potential bowel screening participants to make sure their details are up-to-date with their GP or health care provider to ensure they get their screening invitation.