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Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Page: 3492

Mr BIDGOOD (3:25 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. What action is the government taking in relation to the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program?

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Dawson for his question. This is a very serious development in an important prevention program, the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. As people in the House would be aware, this is a program that was commenced by the previous government. It was expanded upon and further invested in by our government. Fifty-year-olds, 55-year-olds and 65-year-olds are sent screening tests. My department has identified a problem with the kits that have been sent to nearly half a million people since 1 December last year. There is a problem with the kit that has been supplied under contract to the department—and I would like to thank those alert officers in the department who noticed a very worrying changing trend which caused them to further investigate if there had been any changes to the production of this kit. Of the 475,000 people who have received kits since 1 December, 108,000 have undertaken a test. It turns out that there is some risk that some of those who have undertaken the test will not have been given an accurate response.

My department, with the assistance of Medicare Australia, is writing to every person who has received a kit. We will have to not only recall those kits but send new ones. I hasten to add that, for anyone who has had a positive test, it will be accurate. Therefore, they need to get immediate assistance and treatment as they would have been advised. If you have had a negative response, unfortunately that may not be accurate and a test will need to be undertaken again.

It is a very serious development. The department is in urgent discussions with suppliers and manufacturers of the kits. Obviously the government will do all it can to ensure that taxpayers’ interests are protected. However, our first and foremost consideration will be to ensure that people are able to undertake a proper test that is assured of being accurate. The public confidence in this test, which has already successfully saved millions of lives, is vital, and I would ask for the support of all members of this House in making this information available to anyone who might inquire at their office. There is a number to contact the department, and we will make sure that people receive direct notification within the course of, hopefully, the next week. I am advised that the outer time frame will be two weeks and then the new kits will be able to be provided to people immediately when tests that are of an appropriate quality can be obtained.

I thank the House. I think everyone would agree that this is an important measure. It is important that we encourage people to undergo these tests and it is important for them to be reassured that, by the good work of our officers, the problem has been identified relatively early and we will be able to do all we can to rectify it quickly.