Get on with na­tional bowel screen­ing pro­gramme

Kapi-Mana News - - CONVERSATIONS -

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?

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