Bowel screening test kits being sent out after COVID-19 pause

News article

26 June 2020

The National Bowel Screening Programme is sending out thousands of home test kits this week for the first time since the programme was paused in response to COVID-19.

Around 3000 Faecal Immunological Test (FIT) kits, designed to detect early bowel cancers, are being sent to New Zealanders, aged 60 to 74, who are eligible for free bowel screening.  The figure will increase to pre-COVID-19 levels of typically 5000 kits per week from next week.

Programme Clinical Director Dr Susan Parry says the kit mail-out represents the last stage of the phased re-start of the National Bowel Screening Programme and can’t come soon enough.

“With 1200 deaths from bowel cancer per year, the restart of our newest screening programme is very welcome indeed.”

“I would urge anyone who gets a bowel screening test kit in the mail to complete it and send it back. Bowel cancer, if caught and treated early, has a 90 percent survival rate.”

Dr Parry says whilst it was hard to have to pause the programme in response to COVID-19, the bowel screening programme was  interrupted for only three months.

“Having a screening programme back on track so soon, as we have in New Zealand, is certainly not the norm."  

Dr Parry says pausing the invitation process allowed DHBs, who offer bowel screening, to deal with people already in the system and to work through the backlog of colonoscopies for those who require  follow-up investigation.

“I have been very impressed to see the way DHBs have been working through those waiting lists. They have made considerable progress in recent weeks, which means they will be better position to deal with new people entering the screening pathway as a result of new invitations going out.”

The staged roll out of the National Bowel Screening Programme is expected to be delayed by about three months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Full implementation is now expected to be completed in December, rather than June 2021.

More information on the National Bowel Screening Programme can be found on the Time to Screen website.

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