state papers 1988

Concerns were raised by women in 1986 over waiting times for cervical smear tests results

19 women wrote to the then-Minister for Women’s Affairs and Family Law about the issue, State Papers reveal.

A GROUP OF women in 1986 wrote to the then-Minister for State with responsibilities for Women’s Affairs and Family Law outlining their concerns over waiting times for cervical smear tests results. 

In a hand-written letter to Minister Nuala Fennell in 1986, a group of women from a group called the Wednesday Friendly Club said they were writing to “complain about the length of time it takes for the result of cervical smear tests to come back”. 

cervicalstatepapers National Archives National Archives

“It takes three minutes to do the tests but one has to wait three months for the result,” the women wrote. 

Cervical cancer is completely curable so surely something should be done to quicken up the results. The results often show pre-cancerous cells, that is another reason why it is so important. 

The letter was signed by 19 women. 

Nuala Fennell was a leading Women’s Rights campaigner in the 1970s, during which time she was part of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement. She was elected to the Dáil in 1981. 

In her response to the women’s group above, Fennell wrote that she was “aware of the great concern of women about this matter” and added that she brought the issue to the attention of the then-Minister for Health Rory O’Hanlon. 

“I am glad to report that the Minister has in the last week made a special allocation of £41,000 to St Luke’s Hospital to help clear the backlog in processing,” Fennell wrote. 

“In addition, his Department is at present examining all aspects of the existing services provided around the country for cervical smear testing and processing with a view to providing a more effective service generally and, in particular, to ensure its availability to all socio-economic groups.

You can take it that I will be keeping in close touch with the situation and will be pressing for practical measures to ensure that this important service is accessible to women, and that processing delays are minimised. 

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The letters, which were included in 1988 State Papers released this week, show that cervical cancer was a major concern for women over 30 years ago. 

Although 32 years have now passed since the above letters, this year has shown that the issue is still a significant concern to the nation. 

Earlier this year, it emerged that the results of earlier smear tests of at least 221 women who were subsequently diagnosed with cervical cancer could have been interpreted differently.

Most of these women were not informed about this, raising issues around open disclosure. The HSE has since sought to recruit educators who will train employees in the area of open disclosure. 

Since then, campaigner Vicky Phelan has urged the government to make the drug pembrolizumab available to all women with cervical cancer in Ireland.

The drug, which Phelan said is allowing her to live with the disease despite her terminal diagnosis in January, has been offered by the State to the 221 women affected by the CervicalCheck crisis.

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