COVID-19: Information for screening providers
Screening programmes are continuing to operate, with appropriate safeguards in place to keep participants and staff safe. It is recommended that people over 70, or with pre-existing medical conditions, check with their health professional as to whether it is safe to attend appointments.
- Cervical and breast screening will continue for most women. The decision to screen those with existing medical conditions will be made on a case-by-case basis
- Bowel screening invitations and home testing kits will continue to be sent out. If you receive a kit in the mail you should complete it and send it back as soon as possible
The information below under individual programmes is in the process of being updated.
Antenatal and newborn screening programmes are considered high priority and will continue to operate across all COVID-19 alert levels. However, there may be important changes in how the services are delivered at each alert level to minimise risks to staff and the public.
All services providers should abide by Ministry of Health guidelines regarding infection control.
Antenatal screening for Down syndome and other conditions
Antenatal care for pregnant women will continue to be provided across all Government alert levels, including antenatal screening for Down syndrome and other conditions.
All women, including those who identify as a probable / possible COVID-19 case should continue to receive maternity care.
Some changes to the radiology services provided to women for antenatal screening may be implemented at different Government alert levels to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in community settings and protect pregnant women and health staff. We encourage women or their LMC to contact radiology practices to check whether anatomy scanning services are available and any requirements they have in place for appointments. Changes implemented may include:
- Women who identify as a probable / possible COVID-19 case: Access to first trimester anatomy scans for women who identify as a probable / possible COVID-19 case may be limited as some practices are not equipped to manage these cases. Some radiology facilities do have correct protective PPE measures in place for staff and are able to provide essential maternity ultrasound services.
- Shorter scan times: Shorter scan times may be offered to allow more spacing between appointments. While essential scanning procedures will continue, social scanning, such as 3D imaging, may not be available in these shorter appointments.
- Scans can be stopped: Providers have the right to stop a scan if they are uncomfortable with a patient’s behaviour or undeclared symptoms, such as coughing.
- Some radiology practices are closed: Due to the restrictions on non-essential healthcare some radiology practices may close their offices or limit their opening hours.
- No support person present except in high risk situations: Women may be required to arrive and be scanned alone, except if they need a translator or their appointment is deemed to be high risk, for example where there is a suspected loss of pregnancy.
Remember, MSS2 is available to complete screening from 14 weeks if the nuchal scan is unavailable locally or the scan is unable to be completed.
Health providers should review the full guidance for ultrasound service providers available on the Ministry of Health COVID-19 website. This document should be read in conjunction with information available at www.health.govt.nz/covid-19.
Newborn metabolic screening programme
As an essential service, newborn metabolic screening will continue to be provided for babies under all alert levels. This includes babies where they or a family member identify as a probable / possible COVID-19 case.
- Collection of samples: Providers are to follow service guidelines for collection and use standard precautions during collection, and when handling the cards (PPE such as gloves, gown). Cards can be sent in the usual manner. If collecting from a baby or environment in which COVID-19 is suspected or confirmed, providers are to follow local DHB guidelines for patient management.
- Timing of sample collection: The optimal time for collection of a blood sample for newborn metabolic screening is 48 to 72 hours. However, where necessary and to fit with the schedule of visits, the laboratory will accept blood samples collected from 24 hours.
- Courier/mail deliveries as normal: Mail is an essential service that will operate as normal at all levels. However, some disruption to services may be experienced. Note that if a Post Shop is closed, providers can call the courier company for a pickup or to drop off samples at their local maternity facility. Please advise the laboratory of any issues regarding collection or delivery of samples as soon as you become aware of an issue.
- Results not received: Midwives and hospital staff are to ensure that test results are being received within 10 days of a child’s birth and if not, to check that the lab has the sample using the courier track number and call 0800 LABLINK to enquire about sample/result.
Newborn hearing screening
Newborn hearing screening is an important programme and will continue to be provided by DHBs where feasible across all Government alert levels and while demand can be met. DHBs will be prioritising screening babies born in hospital prior to discharge to maximise coverage and completion rates. Babies not screened prior to discharge, babies born at home or a birthing unit, or babies requiring a follow-up screen will need to be seen at an outpatient clinic. Priority will be given to babies who have commenced screening but who require a follow-up screen or older babies who have not yet commenced screening. The availability of outpatient appointments will vary at different Government alert levels and across DHBs.
- Contacting parents of unscreened babies: All DHBs have systems in place for identifying babies who have not been offered newborn hearing screening. Parents/guardians will be contacted by their DHB by phone or letter providing information about when they may expect an appointment and who to contact if they have any queries. Parents/guardians who have not been contacted by their DHB within two weeks of their baby’s birth, can contact their DHB screening team.
- Communication to parents awaiting audiology appointments: Availability of diagnostic audiology appointments will vary across alert levels. Parents/guardians waiting on an audiology appointment for the baby should have been contacted by the audiology department either with an appointment or providing an update on when they may expect to receive an appointment. The parents/guardians of babies of babies referred to audiology can contact their DHB screening team if they have any queries about their audiology appointment.
- Attendance at outpatient appointments: It is important that parents are encouraged to attend the outpatient appointment across all alert levels. Without screening or audiology testing it is difficult to detect hearing loss in babies until their speech and language development becomes delayed. Parents or guardians can discuss with the screening team options for supporting their attendance at an outpatient screening or audiology appointment if they think they may have difficulties attending.
- Advice for parents who are waiting for their diagnostic audiology appointment: The Well Child Tamariki Ora My Health Book includes suggestions for interacting with babies that can promote good listening and communication development in babies. Providers can advise parents to refer to this section while they await their audiology appointment.
Breast screening services are continuing to operate, although appointments could be slightly different as staff will be taking additional precautions, including keeping their distance as much as possible.
- Test results needing urgent attention: Be assured, whatever the COVID-Alert level, you will get an appointment for further assessment and be referred for treatment.
- Option to defer appointment: If you do not feel comfortable attending your appointment currently you do have the option to defer your appointment if you wish.
- Women concerned about symptoms: If you who have symptoms suggestive of breast cancer you are encouraged to contact your GP directly to discuss your symptoms as soon as possible.
- If you are sick or have been in contact with a COVID-19 case: It is important that you stay home and don’t attend your appointment. Please do give us a call and let us know that you can’t make it and we can re-book you in for another time. If you do have cold or flu symptoms, then you should also call your doctor or Healthline on 0800 358 5453.
- If you have a pre-existing medical condition: If you have an appointment booked and have a pre-existing medical condition of relevance, then please contact your breast screening provider to discuss this. Your appointment may be deferred at while at COVID alert levels 3 and 2.
- If you need extra support we can help: If you are worried about attending your appointment because of child care, travel, COVID or other concerns, it’s important to discuss these with your provider. Staff are aware that everyone has had different experiences over the past couple of months. If it helps, then prior to your appointment you can call and speak to a Nurse to talk through what will happen. We would rather help you find a solution then risk you missing your next mammogram.
- Support people: Support people accompanying women to appointments however they are not permitted to be in the room for screening or assessment. This should be someone from your ‘bubble’ (if you are in a region with an alert level 3 or 4).
- If you have any questions: At any time if you have any questions, please contact your breast screening provider or call 0800 270 200.
The National Bowel Screening Programme is continuing as normal, with appropriate safeguards in place to keep participants and staff safe.
- Invitations and bowel screening kits are being sent out as normal. If you receive a kit in the mail, we recommend you complete it and send it back as soon as possible.
- If you are experiencing possible symptoms of bowel cancer, such as a change in your normal bowel habit that continues for several weeks or blood in your bowel motion (poo), it is important to seek advice from your family doctor, who will refer you for urgent assessment and treatment.
- If you need more information, or need help in another language, free phone 0800 924 432.
The programme is continuing to operate, with appropriate safeguards in place to keep participants and staff safe. Your screening provider will contact you if there is a change to your scheduled appointment. It is important that everyone keeps as up-to-date as possible with screening.
- If you have missed a screening appointment or are due for your next test, your health provider will be sending you an invitation.
- Women who are assessed as being at higher risk, such as those who have a history of abnormal results, will be invited to screen first.
- Attending appointments: If you are worried about how you will be able to attend your appointment, discuss any concerns with your provider. They can work with you to find a solution to issues such as child care or financial problems, so you don’t miss your test.
- It’s your choice who you visit for cervical screening. As well as GPs, Family Planning and some community health providers offer cervical screening. These include low-cost and free options for some women.
All programme changes listed above will be reviewed regularly.
In the meantime, the NSU will publish advice for participants on the 'Time to Screen' website www.timetoscreen.nz
If you have any questions about the changes outlined above please email [email protected]