| 28 Oct 2021

South Canterbury Celebrates A Successful First Year of Bowel Screening

The South Canterbury District Health Board is celebrating a successful first year of operating the National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP).

Dr Thomas Caspritz, Clinical Lead for the National Bowel Screening Programme in South Canterbury, says the figures speak volumes with a participation rate of 68% - 8% above the national target of 60% participation. With the Maori participation rate of 62% and Pacifica at 57% for South Canterbury.

“We’re delighted with these results and these demonstrate the tangible effects of this programme.”

In the past year over 6,300 South Canterbury people between 60-74 years old have chosen to take part by using the discreet, simple and clean-to-use home test kit – where a small sample of bowel motion is collected on a test stick, placed in a sample tube and returned via freepost for testing.

By mid-October 2021, there were 194 people who had returned positive results. This means a small trace of blood was found in their sample, which required further investigation. So far, 140 people in the region have had bowel screening colonoscopies and adenomatous polyps were detected and removed in a high number of the colonoscopies – as these can become cancerous over time.

“There can be no doubt the programme is life changing for the South Canterbury residents who have had adenomatous polyps removed or actual cancers detected.”

A number of people have also been placed on the SCDHB’s surveillance pathway for monitoring. “Dr Caspritz emphasizes that screening can save lives by helping find cancer early when it can often be successfully treated.”

Early-stage bowel cancer has been detected in nine people. One is Heather MacDonald, who is keen to share her story to raise the awareness of how valuable and important it is to do the test.

Turning 74 in June, Heather received her test kit shortly after her birthday. “Why wouldn’t I do it?” she says. “It was there and easy to do, and the whole process is free.”

Heather admits she was a little surprised when her GP – Dr Jenny McGechie from Timaru Medical Centre – rang to tell her that she had a positive (abnormal) result and that the NBSP Nurse from Timaru Hospital would be in touch to determine what further investigation was needed.

Heather says she was reassured when she was contacted and the NBSP Nurse went through some comprehensive questions before confirming that she would be offered a colonoscopy procedure within 8 weeks. “I hadn’t noticed anything untoward at all,” she explains.

Heather enjoys a healthy and active life – goes swimming and walking regularly and also heads to the gym twice a week. “I didn’t feel any changes that impacted my day-to-day activities.”

Heather underwent her colonoscopy at the end of August at the Timaru Hospital Endoscopy Unit. She describes the procedure as straightforward and not painful. “People shouldn’t be nervous about having one at all.”

Heather said the hospital staff were very caring, who explained everything clearly to her. Dr Thomas Caspritz completed the procedure and spoke with Heather and her husband afterwards. Heather remembers the doctor explaining how he had found a 30mm mid sigmoid tumour that would need to be sent away to the lab to ensure accurate histopathology.

Heather says she’s a very optimistic person and felt lucky in having something this serious found when it was. Everything moved quickly after the lab results came back and Heather went under the care of a general surgeon who performed laparoscopic resection surgery in Timaru about four weeks after the colonoscopy procedure.

Heather says people should do the test even if they feel fine – as the symptoms can be completely invisible.
Heather encourages everyone to think about just how significant that is – for both yourself and your family.

“Don’t just tuck the envelope into a pile or put it in a drawer,” she advises. “Be proactive and keep it in the bathroom or toilet, so when the moment is right it only takes two minutes to do.”

Dr Anneke Pribis, the Primary Care Lead for the general practices, says bowel cancer is a big issue which has touched the lives of many in South Canterbury over the years. It is wonderful to be able to find these cancers early, when we are much more likely to be able to cure it. This is a game changer for the health of our community.



Dr Thomas Caspritz, Heather MacDonald and Bronny Mackenzie, Clinical Nurse Specialist.

Heather 2

Dr Anneke Pribis, Dr Jenny McGechie and Heather MacDonald.

Notes about the National Bowel Screening Programme:

  • The National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP) is now available in the South Canterbury region
  • It is free of charge for people aged 60 to 74 years of age who are eligible for public healthcare
  • Invitations to participate are sent through the mail, followed by a test kit. Please ensure your contact details are up to date at your GP, so you don’t miss out
  • The kits are easy and simple to do, and samples are returned by mail for testing
  • People should receive an invitation around the time of their birthdate:
    • If you have an even birthdate (e.g. 2nd, 14th, 26th of the month) you will receive your invitation between now and October 2021
    • If you have an odd birthday (e.g. 3rd ,15th, 27th of the month) you will receive your invitation between October 2021 and October 2022
    • Those turning 60 will receive an invitation around the time of their birthday, regardless of their birthdate
  • For more information visit timetoscreen.nz or call freephone 0800 924 432.
  • Meanwhile, anyone with concerns about their bowel health – such as a change in their normal bowel habit that continues for several weeks, or blood in a bowel motion – should talk with their GP directly, and not wait for a testing kit invite.

Karen Berry
Communications Manager

021 139 7442.