National fiddles – while Cancer Kills

By   /   July 22, 2015  /   21 Comments

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It is a sobering statistic that we try to ignore and put out of our minds; more than 2,800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1,200 die from the disease.

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say-no-to-cancer

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Fun Fact 1: New Zealand has one of the highest bowel cancer rates in the world. Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand. More than 2800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1200 die from the disease. By 2016 the number of new cases of bowel cancer diagnosed each year is projected to increase by 15% for men and 19% for women to 3302 (for all ages). Ministry of Health

Fun Fact 2: Bowel cancer is more common as you get older, particularly from the age of 50. Bowel cancer affects more men than women. IBID

Fun Fact 3: People who are diagnosed with bowel cancer, and receive treatment when it is at an early stage, have a 90% chance of long term survival. If there is a delay in diagnosis and treatment, and the cancer is more advanced, it is harder to cure. Bowel screening can detect cancer early, when it can be more successfully treated.  IBID

 

It is a sobering statistic that we try to ignore and put out of our minds; more than 2,800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1,200 die from the disease. If that were a death toll from a communicable disease, the media would be carrying front page newspaper stories  and lead bulletins on 6PM news. The government would impose a State of Emergency, and strict travel conditions imposed on everyone.

But we don’t.

Bowel cancer is hidden away. Victims are not acknowledged.   People go about their every day lives. Media focuses on sensationalism or trivia (with few exceptions).  Government does nothing. The death toll continues to rise.

And it is wholly preventable.

In October 2011, the Ministry of Health began a four-year-long bowel screening pilot in the Waitemata District Health Board area. The screening was offered to  everyone aged between  50 to 74, living within  the Waitemata DHB zone, and who was eligible for publicly funded healthcare. Those lucky to be eligible were sent an invitation letter, a consent form along with detailed instructions, and the necessary free bowel-screening test kit.

By July 2013,  data from the screening pilot detected cancers  in seventyfive people within the first fifteen months of the pilot. Around 60% had been picked up at an early stage when they could be more successfully treated.

Between  1 January 2012 to 31 December 2013,  six thousand people had a colonoscopy or a CT colonography through the Bowel Screening Pilot.  By 1 April 2015, two hundred and fiftyfive people had been identified with a cancer.

Those are 255 people who might not have approached their medical clinic for a test screening kit, or followed up with a colonoscopy. Those are 255 people whose cancer was detected early, and who had necessary treatment.

The pilot screening have also picked up non-cancerous polyps (adenomas) and those  participants will still be at an  increased risk of developing more adenomas or bowel cancer. These participants will require on-going regular bowel checks  in the future.

The initial four year pilot project, initially costing $24 million, was extended to the end of 2017, with a further $12.4 million invested in the programme. But only in the Waitemata District Health Board area. Those living outside the WDHB are not eligible to participate.

That result is from just one DHB “catchement” area. There are twenty DHBs  throughout the country. If similar results were obtained from the nineteen other DHBs, that could mean approximately 5,100 people detected with cancer.

The government’s response can best be described as slow – at worst, reluctant to invest in a nationwide programme. On 6 July, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman announced a graduated roll-out of a nationwide screening programme.

First, Minister Coleman began with the usual meaningless platitudes;

Delivering better cancer services is a top priority for the Government. Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in New Zealand.”

Minister Coleman then explained in a little more detail;

I expect to take a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year which will consider a potential staged roll out of a national bowel screening programme from early 2017.”

However, note the caveats;

I expect to take a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year which will consider a potential staged roll out….”

To inform the next steps towards a possible roll out of a national bowel screening programme, the Ministry of Health will be consulting with the health sector and other agencies on how the service could be provided across the DHBs.”

So not only will any nationwide extension of the life-saving screening programme not begin until “early” 2017 – which happens to be an election year (no connection of course)  – but at this stage it is still only  a   “possible” or “potential staged roll out”. At this point, Coleman will be only be taking “a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year”.

Unsurprisingly, health advocates and professionals are not impressed

Bowel Cancer NZ’s, Dr Sarah Derrett, did not hold back when she condemned National’s lethargic response to the sucessful screeing programme;

Currently this Government is more interested in holding a referendum for a flag as a legacy to our Prime Minister at a cost of $26.5 million than it is at saving lives… it was scandalous there had been no action on a national programme, given 1200 people a year die from bowel cancer in New Zealand.

Bowel Cancer NZ’s chairwoman, Mary Bradley, was also scathing;

We are really pleased that this is happening and that they are talking about a staged roll-out, but we would like to see potential moved to definite roll-out in 2017.

We would like to see a staged roll out now or a start next year would be fantastic. We’ve always known it [screening] is proven, so why wasn’t it done sooner. It could have happened a couple of years ago. This is great, but it’s taken a long time to get here. In the meantime, people are dying.

There is no feasible reason why Coleman is delaying a national extension of this screening programme that has already saved 255 people.  Delaying the roll out condemns hundreds of New Zealanders to a horrible illness and unnecessary death.

Coleman claims that that the delay is caused by a shortage of skilled staff;

The largest constraint to a national bowel screening programme is having the workforce to do the colonoscopies. There are a number of initiatives underway to address this.

[…]

Initiatives to strengthen the endoscopy workforce include increasing the number of gastroenterology trainees. The sector is also considering increasing the use of CT colonography where appropriate.

Yet, the pilot programme has been in operation since October 2011 – giving this government a lead time of five years to begin training required staff. Where was the planning for staffing a nationwide screening programme that was being considered after the  Waitemata DHB pilot?

Did no one at the Ministry of Health or the Health Minister’s office pause to think; “Ok, what happens after the pilot?!

The only possible explanation for this tardiness is purely financial. As Bill English attempts to balance the books and deliver a budget surplus, cuts to health services become more invasive;

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Health fund loses $18 million

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National’s reluctance to spend on much-needed, critical services is no secret. Successive National governments have cut services, whilst giving away billions in tax cuts.

But it is also not averse to spending taxpayers’ money on projects it deems “necessary”;

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NZ government shells out $11m on New York apartment for UN representative

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Flag referendum to cost $26M

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Government accused of wasting $11.5 million on wealthy Saudi farmer

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Govt pays $30 million to Tiwai Pt

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Those four examples alone come to $78.5 million that could have been invested in rolling out a nationwide bowel screening programme plus pay for training of required specialist staff. Instead, the money has been spent on a luxury apartment; bribing a Saudi businessman; John Key’s vanity-project to change the flag; and acceding to a multi-national corporation’s demands for a cash subsidy.

This is worse than wasting tax-payer’s hard-earned money.

New Zealanders are dying whilst National fiddles and wastes time.

It is not the first time this has happened;

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Public hospital ills blamed on fund - Otago Daily Times - 20 august 1999

‘Public hospital ills blamed on fund’ – “Otago Daily Times” – 20 August 1999

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'Four forced off waiting list die', "The Press", 15 March 1999

‘Four forced off waiting list die’, “The Press”, 15 March 1999

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On 21 July, I wrote to Minister Coleman on the issue;

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Kia ora Dr Coleman,

I understand that you plan to “take a business case to Cabinet by the end of the year which will consider a potential staged roll out of a national bowel screening programme from early 2017”.

Considering that a Ministry of Health  pilot programme carried out by the Waitemata District Health Board since October 2011 has saved the lives of approximately two hundred and fiftyfive people who had been identified with a cancer, it seems unbelievable that New Zealanders will have to wait at least another year and a half before a screening programme is rolled out nationally.

You stated on 6 July this year that;

“The largest constraint to a national bowel screening programme is having the workforce to do the colonoscopies. There are a number of initiatives underway to address this.” (https://www.national.org.nz/news/news/media-releases/detail/2015/07/06/Consultation-on-next-steps-for-bowel-screening-programme)

Surely the training of skilled staff should have been started in 2011, when the pilot programme at Waitemata was initiated?

Waiting until the beginning of 2017 means that thousands of people around the country may be stricken by bowel cancer.

How many will contract the illness during the time it takes to extend the screening programme?

The Ministry of Health states;

More than 2800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and more than 1200 die from the disease. By 2016 the number of new cases of bowel cancer diagnosed each year is projected to increase by 15% for men and 19% for women to 3302 (for all ages) (http://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/cancer-programme/bowel-cancer-programme/about-bowel-cancer)

I urge you to re-visit this problem and to begin an immediate, strategic  roll-out throughout the country, so that screening can begin to take place.

It is simply unacceptable that 1,200 New Zealanders will perish this year; next year; and the year after, when an effective screening programme is available to save their lives.

If this government can spend $78.5 million on a Saudi farm; a Manhattan apartment; an aluminium smelter; and a flag referendum – then spending at least half that amount to save lives should not be beyond us.

2017 may be an election year – but we should not have to wait until then. Not when thousands of lives are at risk.

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One of Minister Coleman’s staff replied the following day;

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The Minister has asked Ministry of Health officials to advise him on the matters you have raised.  Please be aware that due to the large volume of correspondence we receive, a personal reply to your email may take some weeks.

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Time, evidently, is not of the essence here.

What is truly shameful is not that a National government Minister is prevaricating on this critical medical problem – but that the Minister in question is a qualified medical clinician.

He, more than any other politician, should know better.

Somewhere in this country, another person has just developed bowel cancer. And doesn’t know it.

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References

Ministry of Health: About bowel cancer

Ministry of Health: Bowel screening pilot

Comprehensive Care: Bowel Screening programme successes

Radio NZ:  Govt told to act now on bowel screening programme

Ministry of Health: Bowel Screening Pilot results – January 2012 to September 2014 – How many colonoscopies have been performed?

Ministry of Health: Bowel Screening Pilot results – Round 2 – January to December 2014 – Footnotes

Ministry of Health: DHB Location boundaries (map)

National Party: Consultation on next steps for bowel screening programme

Radio NZ: Govt told to act now on bowel screening programme

Radio NZ: Health fund loses $18 million

Fairfax media: NZ government shells out $11m on New York apartment for UN representative

TV3 News: Flag referendum to cost $26M

TVNZ News: Government accused of wasting $11.5 million on wealthy Saudi farmer

Fairfax media: Govt pays $30 million to Tiwai Pt

National Party: Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman

Previous related blogposts

Unhealthy Health Cuts

Priorities?

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key

Health Minister circumvents law to fulfill 2008 election bribe?

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment – Compassion

Children’s Health: not a high priority for Health Minister Tony Ryall

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21 Comments

  1. phillip ure says:

    talking about ‘preventible’..and moving the ambulance a little further up the cliff..

    ..i see you noted we have the highest rates of bowel cancer..

    ..there are two other things we are world-beating at – that have both been clearly linked to getting bowel cancer..

    ..we have world-beating rates of meat and dairy consumption..

    (here is more evidence than you can poke a stick at..)

    http://www.whoar.co.nz/?s=meat+cancer

    yes..of course a screening program must start..but to ignore the causes of that cancer..(‘cos of ‘commercial-pressures/imperatives’) is the height of governmental negligence..

    ..(and of course the media have a large part to play in the spreading of that awareness..but in the main they won’t..for reasons both ‘commercial’ and personal..

    ..the personal being that they are likely avid consumers of these bowel-cancer causing products..eh..?

    • GettingOn says:

      The vast majority of evidence on meat consumption and bowel cancer does not, in fact demonstrate a link between eating meat and cancer. It demonstrates a link between processed food and cancer. Most studies link together take-away hamburger consumption with quality meat (red or otherwise) so that someone eating at McDonalds is considered identical to another person eating a pan-fried steak with a side salad and a glass of red wine. The only study that actually separated fresh meat consumption from processed meat consumption showed no association at all between red meat consumption and bowel cancer.

      I have learned, after many years of reading dietary studies, that you must read the detail. Don’t just assume that the conclusions and press releases summarise the data correctly. Often they don’t. I’ve frequently seen claims made for study results that are not reflected in the actual data. If the person running the study wants to see a link between meat consumption and cancer, they will find it whether it’s there or not.

      T Colin Campbell’s book The China Study is often cited as evidence of the benefits of a vegetarian diet, but his data has been re-assessed by several different people and it turns out that the evidence does not show what he claims.

      • Iain Mclean says:

        Gettingon;
        Spot on again!

        “If the person running the study wants to see a link between meat consumption and cancer, they will find it whether it’s there or not.”

        And there it is.
        MSM is decieving us all right across the spectrum.
        In line with your previous comments about ‘vested interests’

        Time to turn them off folks.

        Cheers.

  2. Jay says:

    National have contempt for the Public and the Common Good( just look at the ruthless plans to flog off state housing and not spending that billion bucks doing the maintenance). Probably they’d like screening to be privatised, meaning you want it you pay for it, meanwhile another tax cut bribe on the horizon come next election. As a matter of interest do Southern Cross pay for screening on your private insurance? People dieing early means reduced payouts on super! not all bad eh?Basically they’re w$nking off NZ to get the money! I really believe that.

  3. Tuan Nguyen says:

    I suggest that the blame on the fiasco of cancer prevention and cure rests squarely on the medical establishment and orthodoxy. Throwing more money at screening programs does absolutely nothing, zero, nada, for prevention, let alone cure of cancer. It has been known for a long time that cancer is a metabolic disease, brought on by chronic overload of sugar/carbs and lack of dietary fats. The SAD – Standard American Diet – is the perfect storm for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, catastrophic degeneration of the nervous system – hello dementia and Alzheimer. Totally fixable and preventable by changing our diet. And cheap too – for the consumers that is. Unfortunately it will bankrupt quite a few corporations in the process. And the oncologists don’t seem to be in a hurry to lose their jobs either.

  4. CLEANGREEN says:

    Tuan Nguyen Sorry you are way out of whack,

    Bloody good article frank congratulations mate.

    More money for cancer screening is needed, but the dirty chemical industry that produces all the carcinogenetic chemicals doesn’t want more screening for cancer!! Why?

    Well they don’t want to see a large increasing figures of cancer rates occurring here in clean green NZ.

    The facts of chemicals entering our daily lives constantly can be found after the “Baby formula” scandal remember?

    Yes they found high levels of cancer causing chemicals, that the comical Mystery of health tried to minimise it as not significant!

    Called BPA it is proven to be cancer causing, and that the same chemicals are found in traces all around other products like plastic bottles and at levels that were considered by MoH as simply harmless.

    Most plastics contain this phthalates,3-butadienes,polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons all chemicals as cancer causing as many others do also and it is used to make plastic soft and bendable, shock resistant and flexible.

    Nylon carpets are extremely toxic with over 200 chemicals 131 know cancer causing that the US EPA forces Nylon/acrylic carpet manufacturer companies to put a green warning labels on the back of every carpet today in USA.

    This is warning people to have home ventilation after it is laid down, and must continue to require open window ventilation for days after.

    http://www.nontoxic.com/purewoolcarpets/whattoavoid.html

    But this dumb country of ours (I am Kiwi) are still asleep without any such warnings, they should be ashamed that they are causing people cancer.

    Sorry for the scientific ramp up, I studied Toxicology at University of Florida and Massey.

    Lets not kid ourselves we are in harms way with chemicals all around us today and the Government is hiding it and so is Ministry of health, so we at least need early intervention at finding cancer to stand a chance of beating the cancer.

    I suffered bowel cancer and wile living in Florida had the opportunity to have an early blood test for cancer but paid myself to find that I had it, so they went in and removed it early.

    The test is called the Anti malignin antibody in serum test or Amas test and is done at a laboratory in Boston Mass’ University under Dr Samuel Bogosh.

    The AMAS (Anti-Malignin Antibody in Serum) blood test is available from Oncolab, phone 800-922-8378

    http://cancerfreesociety.org/CancerDetectionandPrevention.html

  5. Fascinating to get a snippet of your background CleanGreen. I’m guessing you’re also an opponent of water fluoridation (and chlorination), which are also environmental toxins and potential carcinogens? Cancer, like climate change, is a classic case of multifactorial causation. You are absolutely right that environmental (and domestic) toxins are one set of factors, as documented by scientists like Dr Merial Watts of the Pesticide Action Network. Chronic stress, and the overloading of the body with stress hormones and their metabolites is another factor. But Phil and Tuan are right that diet is also a factor, it is well known that high levels of meat and dairy consumption increase the risk of bowel cancer is particular:
    https://www.pcrm.org/health/cancer-resources/diet-cancer/type/colon-cancer

    • Tuan Nguyen says:

      I ain’t waiting for any government sponsored or otherwise sponsored screening programs to help me with my health thanks very much. Enough knowledge and research is freely available now for me to make my own decision for my own well being. So the government can use my share of the health tax for something else – like feeding and housing the 200,000+ underprivileged kids in Aotearoa.

  6. Iain Mclean says:

    Frank;
    You have put in some good work here. Well done.
    Yes,we have a cancer epidedemic that never seems to be addressed.

    The WHO has recently announced that glysophate causes cancer.
    Did we see this in our MSM?
    Monsanto and many others have known this for 30+ years.
    Some enlightend european countries are now moving to ban ‘Roundup’ altogether along with others.

    GMO food and ingredients has to be discussed because it is glysophate saturated.
    The plant is engineered to make it’s own as well.
    The world’s production of soy(90%),corn(80%) and canola oil(100%) are GMO
    so these are the main ingredients to avoid.
    Corn fructose syrup is used in soft drinks and alcohol mixes,sweets and many
    processed foods. GMO’s are present in MOST processed foods.
    This is why companies do not want to label and some countries have banned
    GMO’s altogether. Many are moving too now.

    The idea that red meat causes cancer is not the meat itself but what might be
    in it with Big Ag artificial fertlisers and chemicals.
    Pork and chicken feed also are stacked with GMO’s.
    Humans have eaten red meat for millenia with no problems.

    http://www.Mercola.com will advise you to eat organic food with a high % of it raw.

    Chemicals and heavy metals in our environment,homes and car interiors also
    cause cancer. eg. fire retardants,domestic and personal products.
    Mercola will advise to use all natural products where possible.
    Start reading labels and use his search engine for information.
    There are methods to flush out toxins on a regular basis.

    Cheers.

    • Hi Iain,

      The problem of food additives; high concentrations of sugar, salt, and fat; GMOs; highly processed; etc, are definitely worthy of consideration and action. (I was part of the GE Free NZ group in the early 2000s.) I would also add the problem of comprehensive lack of labelling of country-of-origin for our food products, so we know where our food products originate from.

      The increase of obesity in the West – especially amongst our young – is a growing crisis that left unchecked, will impact on our healthcare and ultimately result in reduced services in other areas.

      These are not problems that are either/or. They are matters worthy of consideration (and action), along with screening for cancers and remedial services.

      By the way, you’re correct in saying that “humans have eaten red meat for millenia with no problems”. We are,after all, omnivores.

      However, past information I’ve read indicates that we are consuming more red meat than our ancestors ever did and that a diet rich in red meat was previously the province of the rich and powerful. I’d have to research where I read that, as I found it highly illuminating.

      • phillip ure says:

        @ frank..

        ‘By the way, you’re correct in saying that “humans have eaten red meat for millenia with no problems”. We are,after all, omnivores..’

        that is quite the big-statement/claim there..frank..

        ..and do you have any supporting evidence/links for such a claim..?

        ..i’m pretty sure i haven’t seen many (reputable) research papers/conclusions urging us mug-punters to consume even more meat and dairy..do you have any to hand..?

        ..and of course cancers usually manifest later in life and it is only recently (in ‘millenia’ terms) that our life-spans have extended past about 40-50 for most..so..yr ‘no problems’ contention is/must be somewhat diluted by that..eh..?

        your claim that ‘we are omnivores’ can also be called into question..(dogs are omnivores..with our teeth/intestine-length we are more herbivores..)

        ..and in fact you could almost be an example of what i referred to..in that your excellent/well-researched/footnoted post is seemingly blind to those cancer-causing realities..and your comment confirms this..

        ..probably because you are a ‘user’…eh..?..are addicted to the stuff..and as such in a denial of sorts..seemingly able to not only ignore but to dispute that mountain of evidenced i proffered..

        (a definition of ‘addiction’ is being unable to imagine life without whatever it is..ranging from sugar to heroin..

        ..can you imagine life without meat/dairy frank..?..you know it can be done..all those healthy-looking vegans well attest to that..)

        ..and all evidence confirming what is surely general knowledge now..?..eh..?

        • Iain Mclean says:

          Phillip;
          I am not sure most of what you are saying here is actually true.

          1. .”and of course cancers usually manifest later in life and it is only recently (in ‘millenia’ terms) that our life-spans have extended past about 40-50 for most..so..”
          These stats would come from our west when at the time China and
          Japan were the height of civilization.(probably still are)
          They have had long lives for centuries and only start to drop when
          ‘westernized’.
          Also cancers are appearing now in very young children and should be raising huge alarm bells.

          2 “..i’m pretty sure i haven’t seen many (reputable) research papers/conclusions urging us mug-punters to consume even more meat and dairy..do you have any to hand.?
          Seems like the vegan lobby? (Poor souls)

          This is an extract and example of the research available at Mercola.
          If you go to archives or use the ‘search’ you will find many intervieiws
          with the latest research doctors and scientists. Cancer included.

          “Here are the researched facts and urge everyone to take the
          time necessary to understand what’s at stake.
          (note the meme of children dying before their parents has already been planted. The ‘powers that be’ already know.)”

          Comprehensive;
          http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/11/29/childhood-obesity-epidemic.aspx

          Fructose;
          http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/10/29/obesity-fructose.aspx

          Cancer;
          http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/01/07/obesity-related-cancer.aspx

          “In fact those that eat high amounts of saturated fats will
          shed weight naturally.ie Grass fed red meat,butter,dairy products,cheese and as many eggs as you like.

          THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE TO WHAT WE ARE BEING TOLD!

          We should all consult http://www.mercola.com on a regular basis
          for the continued health of our friends and family.
          The top health site, global independent rating.”

          Cheers.
          – See more at: https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2015/04/02/if-we-are-going-to-call-in-cyfs-for-obese-children-when-will-we-tax-sugar/#sthash.SSiq8Y4a.dpuf

          Frank:
          Remember when our doctors were told you should only eat 1 or 2 eggs a week? Another complete lie!
          Cholesterol is vital for our health and you can eat as many eggs as
          like. It is a complete food. ie has all the ingredients necessary to
          sustain life.
          The cholesterol myth linked to food is not true and the excuse to roll out STATINS that are very dangerous.(Mercola)

          The WHO have now changed their minds on saturated fats!
          Pattern emerging?

          Cheers.

          • One thing I learned recently was that fructose is probably the worst sugar additive in our foods. We’re just not geared toward eating and digesting that kind of sugar.

            As for your suggestion, Iain, that “you can eat as many eggs as like” – hmmmm, that sounds like a PR spin for the egg industry.

            I prefer the old adage, ‘All things in moderation’.

            Anyway, I think we’re off-topic a bit here. It’s not diet I raised, but National’s health policies with regards to nationwide bowel screening.

            • Iain Mclean says:

              Frank:
              Yes,it’s all about the chemicals.
              The toxins are removed from the bloodstream by the
              laying down of fat. Hence obesity epidemic.

              You may be right about the eggs as there will be toxins
              in the feed and anti-biotics.

              Comes back to eat everything certified organic.

              Cheers.

  7. J S Bark J S Bark says:

    A business case? A business fucking case?

    Unlike Dr Coleman I do not sell my faeces for monetary reward. I am not a business case; I am a human being along with everyone else involved in health issues.

    It is particularly hurtful to hear this kind of neo-liberal craptrap coming from a physician, of all people.

    First do no harm…

    … unless it costs too much or doesn’t deliver enough political kudos.

  8. Helena says:

    If the food was cleaned up and the toxins sprayed on it eliminated there might not be bowel cancer. Evidence on the causes of bowel and all cancers are stacked from floor to ceiling and they certainly don’t need any more research. I bet my reputation the cure for cancer is guarded under lock and ‘key’.

    Bottom line: There is no money in peace.
    There is no money in a disease free nation.

    P.S. Didn’t Nero fiddle while Rome burned. And who can prove he didn’t reincarnate and is still fiddling.

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