About the pilot

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program sends eligible Australians aged 50 to 74 years a free bowel cancer screening test. It is sent to the address they have registered with Medicare. Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are less likely to have their address registered (or regularly updated) with Medicare. This means they are less likely to receive mail to their homes from the program.

The National Indigenous Bowel Screening Pilot investigated a different way to distribute bowel screening kits to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to help increase screening.

Why it is important

Bowel cancer is one of the most treatable cancers if it’s found early. But Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is low. Encouraging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to do the test could help close the gap in health and life expectancy between First Nations Peoples and non-Indigenous Australians.

Goals

Our goal is to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people doing the bowel screening test to help ‘close the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous participation in the program.

Meeting our goals

We funded the Menzies School of Health Research to develop a pilot program that looked at alternative ways of getting bowel screening kits to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Through the pilot program, kits were supplied through trusted Indigenous health care providers. Resources for health professionals and for communities and families were also available.

For some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, receiving a kit from a trusted health professional was a more positive experience than receiving it through the mail. It removed many barriers to screening. Patients:

  • understood why the test was important, how to collect the samples and were keen to do so
  • did the test far more quickly than usual kit pathway participants.

Patients at participating health centres could still screen through the usual program pathway if they had received a kit in the mail. Unless they completed a test through the pilot, they continued to receive invitations to screen through the mailed program model. If someone accepted a kit through the pilot, they would have all the same checks and follow up as those invited through the usual mail pathway.

Who we worked with

To achieve our goal we worked with:

  • the Menzies School of Health Research
  • staff at Indigenous primary health care centres (IPHCCs) who were trained and supported to hand out program kits to their eligible patients.

Outcomes

The pilot ran for 12 months from 1 November 2018 to 31 October 2019. IPHCCs were accepted into the pilot if they met the minimum criteria.

Of the 47 IPHCCs that registered to participate, 44 were approved to hand out kits. The IPHCCs included:

  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCHOs)
  • primary health care centres run by state or territory health services
  • private or corporate general practices.

The pilot showed:

  • higher participation in screening for those who were handed kits through the alternate pathway
  • similar participation rates to non-Indigenous Australians who screened through the usual mail model pathway
  • increased screening among those who had been previously invited, but never screened
  • increased screening among those who lived in areas of low socio-economic status or remote areas.

Based on the findings of the pilot we are taking steps to implement the alternative pathway as an option for all Australians to participate in the program.

In the meantime, all the IPHCCs that were approved to give out program kits during the pilot can still do so.

Learn more

Two pilot modules are still available from the Menzies School of Health Research.

For more information about the pilot program, including an evaluation of the results, read the Menzies School of Health Research report.

Final report on the National Indigenous Bowel Screening Pilot

This report outlines the delivery and outcomes of the National Indigenous Bowel Screening Pilot that ran from November 2018 to October 2019. We funded Menzies School of Health Research to develop, carry out and evaluate the results of the pilot.

Last updated: 
16 July 2021