New funding for breast screening programme an "excellent step forward"
The Government has announced it will allocate $55.6 million in this year's Budget to upgrade the national breast screening programme's IT system.
Currently, all women aged 45-69 can have free mammograms every two years when they enrol with BreastScreen Aotearoa. This model relies on women knowing they are eligible for free breast screening and making an appointment themselves.
The IT upgrade will allow the the programme to identify around 271,000 women who are eligible but aren't currently signed up. Women will be directly invited to an appointment which they can choose to go to or ask to opt-out. This new system is expected to be up and running in the next two years.
A further $10 million will be spent on catching up on mammograms that were missed during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
We welcome this announcement, but urge the Government to do more to improve the screening programme.
Our chief executive, Ah-Leen Rayner, said: "We have been calling for an opt-out approach to screening, so this is an excellent step forward. With more than 650 Kiwi women still dying from breast cancer every year, and with wāhine Māori being 65% more likely to die than Pākehā, knowing who's missing out on mammograms is vital.
"From there it's about embracing flexibility and innovation in the screening pathway, which we're very keen to discuss with the Ministry. We'll also be asking urgently about the status of the extension of free mammograms to age 74, up from 69, which the Government committed to back in 2017.
"This important systems upgrade will need to be done in tandem with major investment in staff and equipment, as some regions are already struggling to screen women already enrolled and to maintain Māori participation."