MPs back charity’s plea for improvements to breast screening - News & Updates • Breast Cancer Foundation NZ

MPs back charity’s plea for improvements to breast screening

A cross-party group of MPs has sent a strong message to Government that New Zealand women deserve better access to life-saving mammograms, Breast Cancer Foundation NZ says.

The charity has today welcomed the Petitions Committee’s just-released response to its 10,600-strong petition delivered in December 2021, calling on the Government to restore and extend the breast screening programme, following disruptions caused by Covid-19.

The Committee’s eight-page report endorses the Foundation’s calls on Government to increase the upper age limit for breast screening to 74, include a target for breast screening participation in Health NZ’s Health System Indicators, and ensure BreastScreen Aotearoa has enough resource to catch up on its Covid backlog.

Justine Smyth, chair of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, says: “More than 10,600 New Zealanders asked the Government for action on breast screening in the wake of Covid disruptions, and now we have cross-party support too – this can’t be ignored.

“Breast screening is one of the best tools we have to reduce deaths from breast cancer, but some of its issues pre-date Covid. For six long years, we’ve been pressing the Government to make good on its promise to make free mammograms available for older women. In 2017, the Health Committee agreed with us that this should happen. It’s damning that six years later, another parliamentary committee has expressed its disappointment that we still aren’t any closer to it.

“We were dismayed to hear one official’s claim that providing mammograms for 70 to 74 year olds would be ‘clinically unsafe’ due to strain on BreastScreen Aotearoa’s IT system, and we congratulate the Petitions Committee for calling this out, rightly noting the risk to women’s health is greater.

“What more will it take to provide the women of New Zealand with some certainty around a life-saving service that should available for them? We deserve better – the Government must act quickly on the Committee’s recommendations and we look forward to seeing its response,” says Smyth.

In August 2022, a representative from Te Whatu Ora Health NZ told the Petitions Committee that it would be “clinically unsafe” for BreastScreen Aotearoa’s ICT system to handle an age extension. Breast Cancer Foundation NZ rejects this claim as it would only require 160 extra mammograms per week nationally in the first year and these women are already enrolled in the system.

In October 2017, the Labour and NZ First coalition agreement committed to “progressively increase the age for free breast screening to 74” and this was affirmed in the Ministry of Health’s 2019 Cancer Action Plan. This followed Breast Cancer Foundation NZ’s 2017 petition signed by 10,000 New Zealanders, as well as the Health Select Committee’s recommendation to implement the age extension.