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Delay in resuming cancer screening services will cost lives, campaigner warns

Health Minister Simon Harris said the Government is working on how it can resume screening services safely but has not given a date.

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Campaigner Vicky Phelan (PA)

Campaigner Vicky Phelan (PA)

Campaigner Vicky Phelan (PA)

CervicalCheck campaigner Vicky Phelan has called for Ireland’s screening services to resume, saying any delay will cost lives.

All screening services were cancelled in March when the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Ms Phelan, from Co Limerick, settled a High Court action for 2.5 million euro after being incorrectly told in 2011 that her smear test had given a negative result for cancer.

The CervicalCheck scandal in 2018 saw around 221 women with cervical cancer not informed that smear test results showing them to be clear were inaccurate, and revised test results were then kept from them.

There is no doubt that we will have people who are going to have a delayed cancer diagnosis which is going to cost us at the health service more and it is going to have poor outcomes for patientsVicky Phelan

Ms Phelan told Ireland AM that screening services need to resume as a matter of urgency.

“It will cost lives because by the time people who have symptoms go to their GP and present with symptoms then screening doesn’t work because they already have abnormalities and more than likely, are at the early stages of cancer,” she said.

“If I look at my own case as an example, I went into my own GP with symptoms back in 2014, and I was diagnosed at that point but we know that, I had a screen smear test in 2011, which was three years previously, which was misread.

“If it had been read correctly I actually had cancer at that point but I had no symptoms and this is why I’m always harping on about screening saving lives, because you know if my smear wasn’t picked up in 2011, having had no symptoms I would have been treated at a much earlier stage.”

Ms Phelan said although in most cases healthy people are being screened, it needs to be done as many people do not show symptoms of cervical cancer.

She said: “The problem with cervical cancer is that it’s incurable. It takes the lives of a very young population of women, generally with young children, or who haven’t even had the chance to have children.

“That’s why I am constantly harping on about this because you know screening does save lives and the treatments and the outcomes for patients is much better. The earlier you get this disease, the better.

“There is no doubt that we will have people who are going to have a delayed cancer diagnosis which is going to cost us at the health service more and it is going to have poor outcomes for patients.”

Health Minister Simon Harris has said the Government is working on how it can resume screening services safely but has not given a date.

PA