The government is looking to introduce the beginnings of a national bowel cancer screening programme – and it could be in place from early 2017.

This is what the Health Minister, Jonathan Coleman has said.

I would go one step further and suggest that it ‘has to be’ introduced then.

There is a pilot programme underway at the moment in the Waitemata Health District and the government’s given the programme another $12 million to extend the scheme until December 2017.

To roll the scheme out nationwide would cost around $60 millon a year. That, I think, is the best $60 million we could spend.

Every year in this country, 3000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer and for a good percentage of those people, that diagnosis comes too late. 1200 kiwis die from bowel cancer every year.

You’ve got to detect it early and that means a colonoscopy. In Australia, by 2020, they’ll be screening everyone between the age of 50 and 74. We need to do the same.

I know in Canterbury, the charity hospital is performing colonoscopies on people who have symptoms – and we’re talking about young people here – and who haven’t been offered a colonoscopy under the national health system.

And yet it’s the second biggest cancer killer in this country. New Zealand and Australia both have very high rates of bowel cancer when compared with other first world countries.

And not surprisingly, comprehensive screening programmes overseas have reduced bowel cancer mortality rates in their respective countries.

Right now, we also need to be increasing the number of gastroenterologists we’re training – the work force needs to be ready for this scheme.

But it’s a no brainer – it’s a not a ‘nice to have’, it’s a ‘must have’ as part of our health system.

We’re a first world country — we need a first world health system. A national bowel cancer screening programme is, I think, an absolute priority.