Ivan Burrowes has his wife Sue to thank for making him go private for a cancer check when his local public hospital said he would have to wait two years longer than usual.
Part-funded by insurance, he had a colonoscopy at a private Nelson hospital in April and although he had not been experiencing any symptoms, a bowel tumour was found – his second. It was removed at the city’s public hospital. Luckily, the cancer had not spread.
The 67-year-old retiree, who has also been treated for prostate cancer, first suffered bowel cancer in 1996, while based in the United States.
He was hit by severe pain from a blocked bowel when on a visit to Britain. He had the tumour removed there, and chemotherapy when he returned to the US.
With company insurance, he had regular CT scans and colonoscopies. Polyps – bowel growths, some of which were potentially cancerous, others not – were removed during the colonoscopies.
“When I left the US at the end of 2005, they said, ‘You need to check in to be monitored in New Zealand.’ Shortly after I got here, I had a colonoscopy in Nelson Hospital.
“They said three-yearly colonoscopies. I would have been scheduled for one in May 2014.
I tried, and my GP tried, to contact the hospital to see when I was scheduled. There was no response.
“Around October, I got a letter saying they thought it was ‘perfectly in order’ for it to be five-yearly, which would have pushed it out to 2016,” says Mr Burrowes.
When he challenged the decision he was told it was in line with national guidelines that advise three- to five-yearly colonoscopies for people who have had colon cancer but are at lower risk of recurrence.
Nelson Marlborough District Health Board declined to comment on his case. But DHB surgical service manager Lynley Gardner said in a letter to Mr Burrowes that the change was due to his medical history, “including the long period of time since your first colon cancer”.
She was pleased he took the initiative and had a private colonoscopy, which led to early diagnosis.
Mr Burrowes suspects there are other patients like him who have been “culled” from a waiting list and told all is well “when it is most certainly not”.
He believes early detection and treatment, although expensive, can save lives and even greater hospital costs.