The Ministry of Health has announced changes in timing for upcoming improvements to the National Cervical Screening Programme (NCSP).
“The Ministry has reviewed the implementation timeframe, and decided on a phased approach,” says Clinical Director of the National Screening Unit, Dr Jane O’Hallahan.
“We’re extending the transition to full HPV primary screening, to allow time to develop a more robust IT system to underpin the NCSP. However, we’re still able to push on with implementing the change to increase the start age for cervical screening from 20 to 25 years. Screening in this age group provides little benefit to women, and can cause harm.”
Since the inception of the NCSP in 1990, there has been no reduction in cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates for women under 25 years of age.
The decision to stagger the timeline means the plan to raise the screening start age to 25 will still take place in 2019, reducing the potential harm of overtreatment of women in this age group.
"A date for a full transition to HPV primary screening is still to be decided, however we're working towards commencing from 2021.
“For human papillomavirus primary screening to be safely introduced, the clinical pathways must be supported by a fit for purpose IT solution. Simply adapting the current IT system is not a viable option,” Dr O’Hallahan says.
“It makes sense to take the time to develop a common shared IT solution (National Screening Solution- NSS) that enables the nationwide delivery of all our screening programmes. This will be starting with the National Bowel Screening Programme and extending over time to be the IT solution that enables the nationwide delivery of screening programmes. This will lead to an improved consumer experience for participants of all New Zealand screening programmes” says Dr O’Hallahan.
In the short term, a key focus of the programme will continue to be improving equitable access to screening for priority women (Māori, Pacific and Asian, and any women who are unscreened or under screened).
“Continuing to have regular screening every three years offers women the best protection by detecting changes that could indicate an increased risk of developing cervical cancer,” says Dr O’Hallahan.
“New Zealand has one of the most successful cervical screening programmes in the world, so we need to make sure improvements to the programme are carefully rolled out to protect the integrity of the programme.”