National Screening Unit functions

The National Screening Unit (NSU) monitors the quality of screening programmes by working with expert advisory groups to ensure each programme uses accepted evidence and methods to meet high standards.


Core functions of the NSU include:

  • National coordination, leadership, and advice to government regarding screening
  • Ensuring Treaty of Waitangi obligations are met
  • Research and development, including:
    • evaluation of new screening-related evidence, and
    • evidence-based appraisal of technological advances in screening
  • Developing frameworks, policies and standards
  • Monitoring performance and evaluating screening services
  • Coordinating, leading, and developing a screening workforce
  • Administering legislation related to screening programmes
  • Identifying under-screened groups and developing effective strategies to improve their participation.


The NSU also advises the New Zealand government on other, new potential screening programmes.


Programme Monitoring

The National Screening Unit uses policy and quality standards, alongside independent monitoring, to provide quality assurance for its screening programmes. 

Policy and Quality Standards

Te Whatu Ora contracts and monitors screening service providers to ensure they meet these minimum standards as defined in Policy and Quality Standards. These standards are set by the National Screening Unit for both BreastScreen Aotearoa and the National Cervical Screening Programme (NCSP) and are still being developed for newer National Screening Unit programmes.


Independent Monitoring

The National Screening Unit uses independent monitoring groups to assess both BreastScreen Aotearoa and the National Cervical Screening Programme against set indicators and targets. Te Whatu Ora is advised by these Independent Monitoring Groups (IMGs) on any areas for improvement that may be identified. Copies of these reports are available below:

Quality improvement

Quality health care is about achieving the best outcome by doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, for the right person.

The National Screening Unit (NSU) seeks to enable high-quality, equitable, and accessible national screening programmes. Making this vision a reality depends on a culture of continuous improvement.

A high-quality service is evidence-based, regularly monitored and evaluated, people centred, safe and effective and provides the same care and health results to everyone, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or where they live.

The National Screening Unit Quality Framework sets out the expectations for screening programmes. The framework helps people working in screening nationally and locally to deliver high-quality programmes and assists with the design and implementation of screening services.


Making decisions about screening programmes

The National Health Committee has developed a list of criteria against which decisions about new screening programmes can be assessed.

These criteria are:

  • the condition is suitable for screening
  • there is a suitable test
  • there is an effective and accessible treatment or intervention for the condition
  • there is high-quality evidence that a screening programme is effective in reducing death and illness
  • the potential benefit of the test should outweigh potential harm
  • the health sector should be capable of supporting diagnosis, follow-up and programme evaluation
  • there is consideration of social and ethical issues; there is consideration of cost-benefit issues.

For further information, see the document Screening to Improve Health in New Zealand: Criteria to assess screening programmes, National Health Committee (2003).

Screening Programmes in Aotearoa New Zealand

The National Screening Unit is currently responsible for the national coordination of five screening programmes.

New Zealand's screening programmes


Antenatal screening

Screening can provide some information about the chance of a baby experiencing the genetic variation known as Down syndrome or other conditions, such as trisomy 18 (Edwards syndrome), trisomy 13 (Patau syndrome) and some other rare genetic variations.


BreastScreen Aotearoa screening

Breast screening may lead to the early diagnosis of breast cancer and reduces a screening participant's chance of dying from breast cancer by around 30 percent for those aged between 50 - 65, and around 45 percent for those aged between 65 and 69.


HPV Primary Screening for cervical screening

Early detection of the human papillomavirus virus (HPV) that causes most cervical cancers has the potential to help eliminate cervical cancer in Aotearoa New Zealand. 


Maternal HIV screening

Screening pregnant women for HIV identifies those who, after diagnosis, can be offered treatment to reduce the chance of a baby being born with HIV or getting HIV through breastfeeding. 


Newborn metabolic screening

Helps to identify babies at risk of certain conditions that, if detected and treated early, can reduce the chance they will become ill or die as a result of these conditions.


Universal Newborn Hearing Screening

Screening picks up hearing loss in babies and young children at an early stage. This means help such as resources, parent support groups, hearing aids, cochlear implants and the introduction of sign language can be offered as soon as possible. 


Benefits and risks of screening programmes

The majority of those participating in screening programmes can expect to find they have a low risk of developing a specific condition. 


A small number of participants will discover their risk of these conditions is increased and they will be offered free, additional diagnostic testing. 


The results of diagnostic testing are the only way to determine if a person does, or does not, have a specific condition. Some types of screening are repeated at regular intervals, like breast and HPV Primary Screening (from 12 September 2023) for cervical cancer.


All screening has a small risk of returning inaccurate, or false, results that may cause harm including:

  • False-negatives that provide reassurance of health to a screening participant. While rare, false negatives may mean these participants have a condition for which they need diagnostic testing or treatment. 
  • False-positives are also rare but can result in unneeded diagnostic testing and anxiety for participants.

Types of screening pathways

Organised and opportunistic screening

There are two types of screening: 

  1. Organised screening programmes have to be of a high standard, and the screening services are checked and monitored by people from outside the programme. With organised screening programmes, everyone who takes part is offered the same services, information and support. Often, large numbers of people are invited to take part in organised screening programmes. The National Screening Unit oversees national organised screening programmes.
  2. Opportunistic screening happens when someone asks their doctor or health professional for a check or test, or a check or test is offered by a doctor or health professional. Unlike an organised screening programme, opportunistic screening may not be checked or monitored.

About screening and screening programmes

Screening is more than a mammogram, HPV detection (from 12 September 2023), a hearing test, blood test, or other check. Screening can only be used for those without symptoms of the condition for which they are being screened and is used to predict the likelihood of having the condition.

How to be screened

Those who may benefit from screening are directly invited to take part in relevant screening programmes. This invitation may be a text message, a printed letter, or through conversation with a healthcare provider made directly to the person eligible for screening or, in the case of a baby, their parent or caregiver.


This process is different for each screening programme and you can find more information by selecting from the links in this section of our website. 

Who should be screened

Many screening programmes can provide reassurance that a participant is healthy but the real power of screening programmes is its ability to help identify individuals more likely to have a specific condition.


Identifying higher risk individuals means early diagnostic testing and, if required, treatment can provide a participant with the best possible outcome for their unique circumstance.


All eligible screening participants, once they have provided informed consent, are encouraged to actively participate in these important programmes.

Recommended links

Information found on a website should never take the place of a clinical consultation.

The National Screening Unit makes no guarantee of the validity or accuracy of information held on third party sites. The links below held relevant information at the time this page was created that may be of interest for background information and research. 


Cervical screening/cancer sites

International sites

Established in 1964, the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP) is the health care professionals’ organisation committed to improving health through the study, prevention, diagnosis, and management of lower genital tract disorders.

The Australian Society provides a forum for education and the dissemination of knowledge relevant to the diagnosis and management of the disease processes of the cervix, vagina and vulva.

NHMRC supports health and medical research; for developing health advice for the Australian community, health professionals and governments; and for providing advice on ethical behaviour in health care and in the conduct of health and medical research.

The Society aims to promote excellence in the practice of colposcopy and screening for cervical pre-cancer and cancer. This will be enhanced by informing women and promoting best standards of care in colposcopy with structured training, audit and research.

The website of the UK’s national cervical screening programme.

The website of Australia’s national cervical screening programme.

 New Zealand sites

The New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science is the professional organisation that represents those engaged in the profession and practise of Medical Laboratory Science in New Zealand. It promotes professional excellence through communication, education and a code of ethics to achieve the best laboratory service for the benefit of the patient.

Breast screening/cancer sites

International sites

The website for BreastScreen Australia.

The International Breast Cancer Screening Network (IBSN) is a voluntary consortium of countries that have active population-based screening mammography programs.

The website of the UK’s National Breast Cancer Screening Programme.

Information on breast cancer from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The Breast Education Centre in Nottingham is one of the leading training centres in the United Kingdom. This website has information about breast cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment and research.

A national government agency working to reduce the impact of cancer on all Australians.

Information on breast cancer from one of the world’s foremost independent cancer research organisations.

New Zealand health sites

A forum for women who have experienced breast cancer, with information on breast cancer and treatment.

The Cancer Society has information on cancer and treatment. Publications and booklets can be downloaded from the site.

Aims to reduce the number of New Zealanders who die from breast cancer and to improve outcomes and quality of life for those affected.

Newborn metabolic screening sites

The March of Dimes website contains information about pregnancy, birth and the health of babies. Because it is an overseas site, not all information will be relevant to New Zealand. For example, the site mentions some conditions that are not currently screened for in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders (NZORD) provides New Zealand's central starting point for information about rare disorders.

The Cystic Fibrosis Association of New Zealand website provides information about Cystic Fibrosis.

The Newborn Screening Info website provides fact sheets on the metabolic disorders screened in the New Zealand programme. It includes descriptions of each disorder and how they can be detected and treated. 

General cancer and screening sites

The homepage of the American Government’s main cancer agency.  Provides a range of information on reducing risks and ways to cope with cancer.

The UK National Screening Committee advises on the viability, effectiveness and appropriateness of screening programmes.

Health resources and information

HealthEd is a Ministry of Health website where health workers and the public can search for and order publications and resources from a comprehensive database.

Homepage of National Women's Hospital in Auckland. Go to Enquiries and Information to connect with the Health Information Unit. You can email for brochures on cervical screening and breast disorders, or ask for more specific information on women's health.

Journals and publications

New Zealand health sites

The Cancer Society has information on cancer and treatment. Publications and booklets can be downloaded from the site.

Women's Health Action is a charitable trust set up to disseminate information on health to women. You can order pamphlets on privacy, and on topics such as mammography and HRT. The site has news articles from New Zealand and overseas on women's health and on screening programmes.

Homepage of National Women's Hospital in Auckland. Go to Enquiries and Information to connect with the Health Information Unit. You can email for brochures on cervical screening and breast disorders, or ask for more specific information on women's health.

Family Planning works to promote a positive view of sexuality and to enable people to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health and well-being. Services include contraception, STI checks, menopause, talking to your children about sexuality, educational resources, vasectomy, PMS, adolescent sexuality, and pregnancy.

Contacting the National Screening Unit

We value your input and feedback.

Email and website enquiries


General enquiries

For general enquiries email the National Screening Unit at:


Email addresses

The standard format for all NSU email addresses is:


Website feedback

Please email us if you have a comment regarding the technical aspects of this website or to report a broken link:

Phone enquiries

You can reach us during normal business hours using the phone numbers below.


BreastScreen Aotearoa

0800 270 200

National Bowel Screening Programme

0800 924 432

National Cervical Screening Programme

0800 729 729

Newborn Metabolic Screening Programme - health practitioner result enquiries

0800 522 7587

Antenatal Screening for Down syndrome and other conditions - health practitioner result enquiries

  • North Island to Taupo: 0800 522 7587
  • South of Taupo: 0800 843 522 Ext 80484


The National Screening Unit has offices in Wellington and Auckland.

Wellington Office
133 Molesworth Street
Wellington 6011
Phone: 04 496 2000
Fax: 04 816 4484
Postal address: PO Box 5013, Wellington 6140

Auckland Office
650 Great South Road
Auckland 1051
Phone: 09 580 9000
Fax: 09 580 9001
Postal address: Private Bag 92522, Wellesley Street, Auckland 1141