Alternative access to bowel screening kits

Alternative access to kits means that health professionals can directly give kits to their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients. This removes the barriers that stop some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from participating in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

Closing the gap for bowel cancer screening

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) mails out a free bowel screening test to Australians aged between 50 and 74. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have lower participation rates in the NBCSP (23% compared with 42% for non-Indigenous Australians).

This means Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to have late-stage cancer by the time they are diagnosed. Late-stage cancer is much more difficult to treat successfully.

We tried a different way of getting screening tests to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (called the alternative pathway). In the alternative pathway, health workers or doctors directly gave the test kits to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and explained how to do the test. Results were sent to both the patient and their health centre.

We trialled this with Indigenous health services across Australia in a pilot program run by Menzies School of Health Research.

Menzies’ final report found that this way of distributing kits closed the participation gap. Find out more about the pilot.

NBCSP alternative access to kits

We are now adopting this way of giving out bowel cancer screening tests to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We call this ‘NBCSP alternative access to kits’.

Health centres that participated in the original pilot program can continue to hand out test kits to patients.

We are working to expand alternative access to kits to other centres in the future.

How it works

With NBCSP alternative access to kits, doctors or health workers give test kits directly to their eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients.

  1. The Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander patient sees their health worker or doctor about any health issue.
  2. The health professional asks if the patient has done the bowel screening test.
  3. If they haven’t, the health professional gives the patient a kit and explains how to use it.
  4. The health professional registers the patient using the online participant details form.
  5. The patient takes the kit home, completes it and sends it back by mail or takes the completed test to their health professional, who send the completed kit to the pathology laboratory.
  6. Both the patient and the health service receive the results by mail.
  7. The next time they are due to do the test, the health service will receive the patient’s kit, unless either the health service or the patient have chosen to 'opt-in' to the standard mail model of the NBCSP for their next screening round.

More information and resources

See more information about how NBCSP alternative access to kits works, and links to culturally appropriate resources:

Last updated: 
16 July 2021

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