New Zealand’s approach to equity in screening interests NHS

Dr Jane O’Hallahan
NSU’s Dr Jane O’Hallahan met a number of people involved in screening programmes on her recent study tour to the UK.
National Screening Unit (NSU) Clinical Director Dr Jane O’Hallahan was in the UK recently, and found there was great interest in New Zealand’s unique approach to ensuring equity in screening programmes.

Dr O’Hallahan, who was on a study tour, presented to those involved in delivering the English, Scottish and Irish hearing screening programmes at a meeting in London. She covered a number of issues, including equity in screening.

‘The importance of applying an equity lens across all screening programmes in New Zealand and strategies for ensuring our programmes address gaps in health equity was of great interest to the meeting’s participants,’ she says.

‘Equity isn’t necessarily a focus for other screening programmes around the world, so it is therefore an area where New Zealand can make a significant contribution.’

During her time in the UK, Dr O’Hallahan met National Health Service (NHS) managers, information technology experts, public health medicine specialists and epidemiologists to gain an understanding of the challenges of current screening programmes as well as those on the horizon.

‘I also met the programme managers and clinical leads of all the NHS newborn screening programmes, the director of the cancer screening programmes and interviewed a number of people about the future direction of NHS screening.

‘New Zealand already has strong links with the NHS, and the UK health system – while not the same as ours – is more similar than that of, for example, the United States.

‘They have a lot of experience in organised screening programmes and have implemented more than we have and I took away lots of lessons around implementation.’

Dr O’Hallahan says the appropriateness of some of the UK’s current screening programmes for New Zealand will need to be considered in the next few years, including variations on population-based screening programmes.

She says New Zealand’s programmes currently look at the entire population, but it’s interesting to consider that further work on the human genome and other risk factors will enable more targeted or individualised approaches to screening.

‘An organised screening programme is a significant investment for a country because it requires registers, monitoring, standards and indicators to be in place, so we have to be clear about what the benefits and harms are before committing to programmes and regularly assess existing programmes for cost effectiveness.

‘The NHS has a rigorous process for assessing screening programmes through their National Screening Committee.  New Zealand has had a National Screening Advisory Committee (NSAC) that has undertaken similar work. 

‘NSU is currently considering the way forward with regards to the work undertaken by the NSAC.’

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Page last updated: 29 November 2014