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CervicalCheck director urges women to trust screening service after 'tough couple of years'

Noirin Russell acknowledged that trust in the system had been eroded.

Image: Shutterstock/Iryna Inshyna

THE CLINICAL DIRECTOR of CervicalCheck has urged women to trust the screening service after acknowledging that faith in the programme “has been eroded”.

Dr Noirin Russell called for any woman who had received a letter of appointment or who was showing symptoms such as vaginal bleeding not to be hesitant about attending the service.

Issues with the screening programme emerged after a High Court case taken by Vicky Phelan in 2018.

The service failed to tell women who had been diagnosed with cancer that their original smear tests had been reviewed after their diagnosis.

In some cases the reviews found false negatives in tests and women in these cases may have benefited from an earlier diagnosis and earlier care.

Russell told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne programme that the service had endured a “really tough couple of years” as a result of the controversy.

“It’s been tough because I think women’s trust in the programme has been eroded,” she said.

She also suggested that those in charge of the programme in recent years emphasised the benefits of screening services too much without admitting how such services could not prevent all cancers.

Russell also said that supporting cancer screening programmes as a society meant accepting that they could not catch all forms of cancer.

“HPV screening will prevent 90% of cancers,” she said.

“But we have to acknowledge that it will not prevent 10%. And we as a society have got to decide how do we take that information and how do we care for those 10% of women who feel very, very hard done by.”

Her remarks follow concerns expressed by Russell to Aontú TD Peadar Toibín that questions raised about the CervicalCheck controversy could undermine the service.

In a letter to the TD last month, Russell said it was important “not to assume that a mistake has been made” but to recognise the inability of cancer screening services to detect all cancers.

“I worry that comments such as those you have made makes women feel they have been wronged by the system, whereas in fact they have been unfortunate in not being one of those to have cancer detected early,” she wrote.

“It is a huge psychological blow to receive a diagnosis of cancer and to think that you might have been wronged makes it worse.

“This is the best that any cancer screening programme in the world will ever be, and therefore perpetuating the idea that these are ‘mistakes’ is harmful to women and their confidence in the programme.”

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The letter was criticised by Vicky Phelan the 221+ patient support group, which expressed “deep concerns” at her remarks.

The group said it would write to the Independent Chair of CervicalCheck Steering Committee over concerns that the comments betrayed the commitment of government to cultural change in as part of the programme.

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