Get on with national bowel screening programme
A national bowel screening programme is urgently needed. New Zealand’s rate of bowel cancer is among the highest in the world, and about 1200 Kiwis die of the disease each year. Early detection through screening would save hundreds of lives.
The path to a nation-wide programme, however, has proved long and hard. It has now been revealed that there were tough bureaucratic battles before the May Budget announcement of a $39 million four-year screening programme to be run by Hutt Valley and Wairarapa district health boards, joining the pilot programme run by Waitemata.
Treasury, according to the papers issued this week, did not think health officials had made a good business case. It thought the programme probably wouldn’t be delivered on time and within budget, and suggested health officials take it back to the drawing board.
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has delivered a blistering counter-attack, saying Treasury had always tried to block further health spending and was ‘‘starting to get into stuff which they know nothing about,’’ seeking to discredit the science behind the testing.
Spending ministers, of course, are also inherently hostile to Treasury and regard them as know-nothing nay-sayers who impede progress.
It’s hard to say exactly who is right in all this. If health officials had not managed to mount a plausible business case they have little excuse. After all, the pilot screening programme in Waitemata has been running for years now. Officials should know the likely costs and needs, including the effect on staff.
On the other hand, Treasury are not experts on the science and enter this area at their own peril. And sometimes Treasury’s dislike of new spending seems as much about ideology as parsimony.
Labour says these last-minute bureaucratic manoeuvrings show how bad the Government’s health planning is. After all, says Annette King, the national screening programme should have been introduced years ago.
Certainly the screening programme is needed. It is also now quite clear that screening would mean many more people would catch the disease in its early stages, when it is far more treatable. As an investment in the nation’s health, money spent on the screening programme would be well spent.
It does nothing for public confidence that officials were still squabbling about the plan only months before the budget. Is government planning really so adhoc and last-minute?