The National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP) restart is beginning with asking people who received a bowel screening test kit in the mail just before or during the COVID-19 Level 4 lock down to complete their kit and send it back.
NBSP Clinical Director Dr Susan Parry says about 29,000 people were sent letters reminding them to return, complete or repeat a test kit while the bowel screening programme was paused during the COVID-19 response. However, these letters also advised participants to hold off sending their bowel screening test kit back until the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.
‘The kits have a six month expiry date so we’re chasing those still outstanding and asking people to complete them and send them back as soon as possible if they have not already done so.
‘This is important because these tests can help detect early bowel cancers and they really do save lives. At this time of heightened awareness, this is a positive and proactive thing people can do for their health.
Dr Parry says despite the pause in invitations during the COVID-19 lockdown, the free programme continued to process test results for people already on the screening pathway. She says those with positive test results are now being offered follow-up investigations, in most cases a colonoscopy.
‘DHBs are working through the backlog of cases to offer timely colonoscopies. We are asking people to be patient as they wait for their appointment but to be reassured the Ministry of Health is monitoring the situation closely.
‘We understand that for some people this may be an anxious time but it is important to remember that 92 out of 100 people who return a positive test do not have bowel cancer.’
To enable DHBs to catch up on colonoscopy procedures, new invitations for screening won’t be sent out until the 11th of June, with recalls and the bowel screening test kits going out a fortnight later.
The majority of the ten DHBs currently delivering bowel screening programmes are expected to start then, though the Ministry is still working with DHBs and will be able to confirm this in the near future.
Dr Parry says people who turned 75 when bowel screening was paused and are now outside the eligible screening age (60 to 74), will still be offered a screening test so they are not disadvantaged.
The NBSP, currently available in half the country’s DHBs, has sent out more than 430,000 FIT kits since it began nearly three years ago and has detected more than 600 cancers, as well as removing thousands of potentially cancerous polyps.
For more information, see National Bowel Screening Programme.
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