Media release from Bowel Cancer New Zealand

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Mr C for the loss of their loved one. We understand, only too well, how they must feel having been let down by the health system – a system that we should all be able to confidently depend on for quality and timely care. Sadly this is too often the case, as our charity supports families in similar situations around New Zealand” says Fiona Colbert Bowel Cancer New Zealand’s Executive Officer.

Only eight weeks ago Bowel Cancer New Zealand was commenting on the findings of the PIPER Study and calling on the government to stop stalling and introduce a national bowel screening programme in New Zealand for the same reason; surely we cannot afford to let any more people go undiagnosed from this insidious cancer.

Colbert says “Minister Coleman, please don’t let Mr. C’s tragic and untimely death be in vain. Do the right thing and fast track the introduction of a national bowel screening programme supported by a targeted education and awareness programme to inform the community about the symptoms of bowel cancer.”

What makes this terrible tragedy more alarming is the fact that delayed diagnosis of bowel cancer in primary care is frequently the cause of complaint to the Health and Disability Commissioner.  “A report released by the Health and Disability Commissioner in April this year also emphasised the problems with cancer treatment delays in our health system – with 27% of the complaints about delay coming from people with bowel cancer. Yesterday’s report into Mr C’s case and this earlier report both point to the real need for a national bowel cancer screening programme and much clearer pathways for patients”, says Associate Professor Sarah Derrett from Bowel Cancer New Zealand’s Executive.

The systemic error that Mr. C and many others have encountered are sadly not isolated and this is unconscionable.  The Waitemata DHB have made changes to their referral systems in order to minimise the risk of a ‘lost’ referral between primary and secondary care. However we are calling on the Ministry of Health to look at this as a national issue as a matter of urgency to ensure such strategies are introduced throughout all DHB’s to ensure the gaps in the system are closed and the community can feel assured that they are receiving an equitable and robust bowel cancer services wherever they might live in New Zealand.  Delayed diagnosis of bowel cancer will never have a good outcome. With 1200 deaths each year, New Zealand has the highest rates of bowel cancer and bowel cancer deaths in the developed world.

The PIPER Study has highlighted access to diagnosis and timely treatment as an issue; something which Bowel Cancer New Zealand has long been concerned about. New Zealand has much higher rates of bowel cancer being diagnosed when people present to emergency departments (30%; compared to only 20% in the UK) and a higher proportion of Kiwi’s (24%) being diagnosed with ‘worst-level’ Stage 4 cancer than other countries. This significant research clearly illustrates the government is failing New Zealander’s by continuing to stall on implementing a national screening programme. People are dying from a preventable, treatable and beatable cancer because they are not being diagnosed early enough.

BCNZ encourages open discussion about bowel cancer with medical professionals and avoiding ‘sitting on your symptoms’. Symptoms include:

•       Bleeding from the bottom or seeing blood in the toilet after a bowel motion;

•       Change of bowel motions over several weeks without returning to normal;

•       Persistent or periodic severe pain the abdomen;

•       A lump or mass in the abdomen;

•       Tiredness and loss of weight for no particular reason;

•       Anaemia.

Those who don’t live in the Waitemata DHB area or have symptoms or a family history of bowel cancer and want to do regular checks can talk to their GP or buy a commercially available bowel screening kit, which involves the family doctor, at Life or Unichem pharmacies or through

More information on bowel cancer and BCNZ can be found at