National Bowel Screening Programme

The National Bowel Screening Programme will be rolled out progressively across all district health boards starting in July 2017.

For consumer information

If you’re looking for information about bowel screening, visit Time to Screen or phone 0800 924 432.

The programme will offer bowel screening every two years to eligible people aged 60 to 74 years.

Aim of the programme

The free National Bowel Screening Programme aims to save lives by detecting bowel cancer at an early stage when it can often be more successfully treated.

The benefits of bowel screening

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand. More than 3000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1200 die from the disease.

People who are diagnosed with early stage bowel cancer, and who receive treatment early, have a 90% chance of long term survival.

Bowel screening every two years can help save lives by finding bowel cancer at an early stage, when it can often be successfully treated. There may be no warning signs that someone has bowel cancer.

Bowel screening can also detect polyps. These are not cancer, but they may develop into a cancer over a number of years. Most polyps can be easily removed, reducing the risk that bowel cancer will develop.


Since late 2011, the Bowel Screening Pilot has been offering bowel screening to eligible people aged 50 to 74 years living in the Waitemata DHB area.  

Data collected during the Pilot has provided vital information on participation levels, cancer detection rates and the impact on health services, and has helped inform decisions about the National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP).

The roll-out of the NBSP will begin with Hutt Valley and Wairarapa District Health Boards (DHBs) in July 2017, with other DHBs following in stages. See About the programme for more information. Bowel screening will continue to be offered to eligible people at Waitemata DHB, which will transition from the Bowel Screening Pilot to the NBSP in January 2018.

The free National Bowel Screening Programme is for men and women aged 60 to 74 who are eligible for publicly funded health care. More than 80% of cancers detected through the Pilot have been found in this age range.

Those identified as being eligible for screening will be sent an invitation letter, a consent form and a free bowel screening test kit. They’ll receive their first invitation within two years of the programme starting in their DHB area.

During the first stage of the roll-out, the Bowel Screening Pilot (BSP) Coordination Centre will manage and send screening invitations, coordinate the processing, analysis and management of completed faecal immunochemical tests and results for both the Pilot and  bowel screening at Hutt Valley and Wairarapa DHBs. The BSP Coordination Centre will also continue to manage the 0800 number (0800 924 432).

A National Coordination Centre (NCC) will be established in 2018 to take over this role. The NCC will host the 0800 number for the NBSP and send letters to participants following a negative result and notify GPs electronically of all results.

The NCC will also advise the local DHB endoscopy service of all positive results.

The Ministry will contract directly with a single laboratory to provide the services associated with the faecal immunochemical test (FIT) kit.

DHBs will be responsible for delivering colonoscopies, overseen by four bowel screening regional centres that will support clinical leadership, and manage quality and equity in their area.

DHBs will continue to be responsible for surgical and cancer treatment.

Primary care has an important part to play in the success of the National Bowel Screening Programme. General practitioners and practice nurses will discuss and manage positive test results with their patients. They also have a key role in encouraging participation, helping achieve equity, and raising awareness of bowel cancer symptoms and family history of bowel cancer.

Where to find further information

Documents related to the NBSP, such as guidelines and standards, resources and reports, will be published on the NSU website as they become available.

General information on the NBSP, including the indicative roll-out order and how to do the test, is available on Time to Screen.

More information is available on the Ministry of Health website, such as:

For more on familial gastrointestinal cancer go to the New Zealand Familial GI Cancer Service website.

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Page last updated: 23 April 2018