Reflecting on 2014

Jane McEntee, Group Manager, National Screening Unit.
National Screening Unit Group Manager Jane McEntee.
As 2014 draws to a close, we look back on another busy year for the National Screening Unit (NSU) that included a number of notable achievements.

It was very pleasing to see the continuation of improvements to the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Early Intervention Programme. Following a screening incident identified in July 2012, a number of recommendations to further strengthen the programme and its monitoring have been completed.

These included a recommendation that NSU should consider changing to the sole use of automated auditory brainstem response (aABR) testing, and this was endorsed by an independent review of newborn hearing screening devices, completed in March 2014. Accordingly, the NSU has now gone out to tender for the supply of aABR devices, with a supplier due to be announced early next year.

To date, 17 of the 21 recommendations have been completed, and the resulting quality improvements have in many cases become standard practice for the NSU and district health boards (DHBs). DHB and newborn hearing screening staff and the newborn hearing screening advisory group are to be applauded for their commitment to introducing these improvements to the programme.

The National Cervical Screening Programme (NCSP) is preparing for its three-yearly review, which will take place in 2015. The purpose of the regular independent review, which is required by legislation, is to ensure the NCSP is of the highest possible quality and continues to reduce rates of cervical cancer and the number of women who die from it. The review is expected to be completed by the end of June 2015.

For the BreastScreen Aotearoa (BSA) programme, the beginning of August saw a new provider delivering breast screening services in Otago and Southland. Pacific Radiology Group, Southern DHB and the National Screening Unit worked together to ensure a seamless transition to the new service.

Still on breast screening, it is exciting to see the continued increase of coverage rates for Pacific women. While coverage rates since 2012 have increased for all groups, Pacific coverage rates continue to increase the most and are now higher than coverage for non-Māori/non-Pacific women, at 73 percent. This success owes much to the hard work of BSA providers to engage effectively with Pacific communities.

The NSU’s website contains comprehensive information about screening for the public and health professionals. This month we are pleased to announce enhancements to the site that will make it much easier to see and access using mobile devices.

Turning to next year, we will continue our strong focus on strengthening data quality and monitoring. This will include the development of a population health data warehouse, implementation of the newborn hearing information system and the implementation of electronic reporting of colposcopy data to the NCSP-Register across all 20 DHBs.

The timeliness of newborn metabolic screening heel prick blood spot samples reaching the laboratory in Auckland continues to be a concern for the NSU. The most recent monitoring report showed only 70.4 percent of samples were received by the laboratory within the required four days, with no DHBs meeting the standard. Improving these transit times will continue to be a priority for the NSU next year.

Another priority for 2015 will be beginning the policy work around how a change from the cervical Pap smear to HPV testing as the primary screening test would work best for New Zealand women. The work will include sector consultation. If agreed to implement, the NSU will plan how any changes will be made and provide education and information to women and health professionals.

On a personal level it is with some sadness that I say farewell to the National Screening Unit at the end of January 2015. I have accepted a role as General Manager, Auckland Regional Public Health Service. Screening is something I will continue to have an interest in, however I would like to personally acknowledge the NSU staff, providers and Ministry of Health staff I have worked closely with. I have valued the work we have done together and the changes and outcomes we have overseen.

In closing, I would like to say a huge thank you to the screening sector, including NSU staff, for the incredible commitment you show to ensuring New Zealand’s screening services continue to be high quality, safe and effective. Your work is world leading and improves the lives of many New Zealanders.

Best wishes for a safe and relaxing holiday break.

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Page last updated: 09 December 2014