Independent MPs Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie have joined forces to call on the federal government to expand its National Bowel Cancer Screening Program in the 2012-13 budget.
Speaking together outside Parliament House today [13 March], the three independent MPs were united in backing Cancer Council Australia’s pre-budget call for the addition of Australians aged 60 and 70 to the program, estimated to cost around $15 million per annum.
Mr Windsor, the Member for New England, said $15 million was a modest investment when Australia’s overall bowel cancer medical bill was estimated at around $1 billion per annum. “And you cannot put a dollar value on the thousands of Australians who die of bowel cancer every year, despite bowel cancer being easy to treat if it is detected early,” he said.
“Investing $15 million to add 60 and 70-year-olds to a program that could save many of them from a premature bowel cancer death should be an urgent funding priority for the budget.”
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program’s introduction was a bipartisan 2004 election commitment, from then Shadow Health Minister Julia Gillard and Health Minister Tony Abbott.
In the 7½ years since, the program, which the Government has committed to make available to all Australians aged 50 and over every two years as recommended, has been restricted to a one-off test for people turning 50, 55 and 65 – while bowel cancer continues to be the nation’s second biggest cancer killer after lung cancer.
The Member for Lyne, Rob Oakeshott, said people were dying unnecessarily, right now, because potentially curable bowel cancers were not being detected. “It is a tragedy that 4000 Australians are dying each year of a cancer that can be detected early through screening and treated successfully,” Mr Oakeshott said.
The Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, agreed, saying the program’s expansion was overdue. “It is unacceptable that such an effective public health measure continues to be held back simply because of budget concerns, when the data shows it is cost-effective,” Mr Wilkie said.
Professor Ian Olver, Cancer Council Australia’s CEO and a medical oncologist, applauded the MPs for supporting bowel cancer screening. “By adding their voices to the call for program expansion, the Members for New England, Lyne and Denison are sending an urgent message to the federal government that a life-saving extension to an effective cancer screening program has to be funded,” Professor Olver said.
“Adding 60- and 70-year-olds would immediately save lives and bridge two of the biggest gaps in the program’s reach, while a plan is developed for full coverage of everyone 50 and over.”
See Cancer Council’s new TV advert here and find out more about the campaign at www.getbehindbowelscreening.com.au