The National Party has been challenged to come through on its election promise to lower the screening age for bowel cancer as increasing amounts of younger people are diagnosed with the condition.
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said in a pre-election debate that National would drop the age of free screenings to 50 and that it would be a priority for his Health Minister.
“Well, I stand by our commitment on bowel cancer. Day 1, go to the Ministry of Health, go to the Treasury and actually get the business case together for that,” he said in September last year.
Now advocacy group Bowel Cancer New Zealand are holding the Government to account after the pledge was not mentioned in its 100-day plan.
A medical advisor for the group said it was “disappointing” to see no mention, and that it was “concerning as the incidence in bowel cancer is dramatically increasing in the young population, and lowering the screening age will save lives”.
“My message to them is please follow through on what you promised quite clearly on national TV prior to being elected,” colorectal surgeon professor Frank Frizelle said.
“Now you’re in charge, let’s see if you can do what you said you would.”
Frizelle said that the group “at the very least” expects to see the bowel screening rollout accelerated for all Māori and Pasifika from age 50 to avoid further inequities.
“In the meantime, a clear fiscal and workforce plan must be developed urgently to lower the age to 45 years for all Kiwis.”
Health Minister Shane Reti said that the Government was committed to lowering the screening age, and that he asked for a briefing as to what it could be lowered to.
However, when pressed by 1News, Reti would not confirm that it would be lowered to 50 per the prime minister’s promise, only that it would be reduced.
Bowel cancer patient Doug White was six years shy of qualifying for the free screening age, which is currently 60 for the general population.
He received a stage 3 bowel cancer diagnosis at the age of 54, with a 10cm tumour that had been sitting there for one to two years.
“Well considering if there was earlier testing, I would have been picked up earlier. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to go through the treatment that I got, maybe I could have been picked up at maybe a stage one or stage two.”
White said that if something’s not right, go and get it checked.
“It could cost you your life if you don’t.”