Photo: ODT files

Screening programmes resumed


Nationwide cancer screening programmes are resuming in the South following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, but with new safety protocols in place.

Bowel, breast and cervical screening in nationwide programmes is overseen by the Ministry of Health and implemented by district health boards.

Screening for bowel cancer was introduced in the South in 2018 and the region quickly recorded one of the highest participation rates in New Zealand.

Southern District Health Board medicine, women’s and children’s health general manager Simon Donlevy said invitations for people to take part in the service would be mailed out from June 11.

"In the meantime Southern DHB is now providing colonoscopies for patients who tested positive prior to the Covid-19 shutdown."

Procedures were being given priority in line with ministry expectations that patients at the highest risk of significant disease would be seen first, Mr Donlevy said.

"During the lockdown, the national bowel screening programme was paused ... while this may lead to a temporary reduction in demand, the programme will be catching up on those cases, so, overall, the lockdown is not expected to have any impact on the demand for colonoscopies."

Some patients might wait longer than would be ideal for procedures, but clinicians would work through the list as quickly as possible, Mr Donlevy said.

"Planning discussions are being held at both at a national and local level, with all options being considered.

"The overarching principle remains that those at most urgent anticipated need of receiving care are prioritised."

The national cervical screening programme "events" would resume as soon as practicable, Mr Donlevy said.

During Alert Levels 4 and 3 screening work continued in the region to ensure women’s data was up to date and those aged between 25 and 69 were reminded to be screened.

BreastScreen Aotearoa provider Pacific Radiology had restarted routine breast cancer screening, and measures had been introduced to ensure participants and staff were kept safe, Mr Donlevy said.