Belfast Telegraph

Issues over review of smear slides were ignored, says campaigner Lorraine Walsh

Ms Walsh stepped away from her role at the CervicalCheck patient steering committee in October.

CervicalCheck campaigner Lorraine Walsh (PA)
CervicalCheck campaigner Lorraine Walsh (PA)

By Cate McCurry, PA

CervicalCheck campaigner Lorraine Walsh said her issues over a review of smear slides were ignored and she became a victim of “my own concerns”.

Ms Walsh, who stepped away from her role at the CervicalCheck patient steering committee in October, said she was shut out of the process as she attempted to raise red flags in the programme.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists UK (RCOG) published its review findings earlier this month into Ireland’s CervicalCheck controversy.

The RCOG review found 159 “missed opportunities” to prevent or diagnose cancer.

These included 12 women who died in circumstances where there was a missed opportunity to prevent or diagnose their cancer at an earlier stage.

It was also discovered that some of the women’s slides were returned to RCOG following a number of discrepancies.

Ms Walsh told the Health Committee on Tuesday that her own experience has not been positive or reassuring in seeking the truth in relation to RCOG.

She told the committee that on October 2 she was contacted by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and told that following the return of the slides from RCOG to the labs, that the lab had identified a mislabelling issue with three women’s slides, the labels had been removed and replaced on the incorrect slides.

She said: “Two of the three women involved with this mislabelling were (campaigner) Vicky Phelan and I.

“On October 3, I attended a CervicalCheck steering committee in the Department of Health where I voiced my concerns in relation to verification of reports and their quality assurance process involved in the checking of reports before releasing.

“Meanwhile, women were feeding back to me that the reports they were receiving still contained inaccurate information.

I had enough of being treated like I was not worthy and did not matter so I removed myself Lorraine Walsh

“I was placated and informed there was no need for any concern and also informed they did not like my tone, I knew what that meant, so I retreated to a position of silence.

“People often forget what is said, but you don’t forget how you are treated, eventually I had enough of being treated like I was not worthy and did not matter so I removed myself, my resilience could no longer sustain the pressure.

“A culmination of feeling irrelevant, the inaccuracies in the RCOG reports I was aware of from HSE, women contacting me directly regarding inaccuracies and the amount of time I felt I was wasting not being listened to, forced me to resign, an act I did not take lightly but had to for my conscience.

“I became the victim of my own concerns, I voiced my concerns to the most senior people in our health system but it would seem that women are still not being listened to.”

Ms Walsh was appointed to the committee in June 2018 by the Minister for Health Simon Harris to give a voice to the women involved in the CervicalCheck debacle.

Fianna Fail’s Stephen Donnelly said that her testimony suggests that “not a lot has changed”, and that women and patients and patient reps are being talked to.

“The language that you used was very upsetting to hear, essentially that you were being handled, that you were made to feel irrelevant, that you were made to feel unworthy,” he added.

Mr Donnelly said it was “infuriating” and “outrageous” that a patient rep who raises a red flag is not listened to and is not taken seriously.

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Ms Walsh said she was shut out of the process.

“I’m sorry that I have to tell the women and families in Ireland that but that is the truth,” she added.

Ms Walsh called for an independent person or body to chair the committee.

Campaigner Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died in 2017 and who was only told in April 2018 that her smear tests from 2010 and 2013 were incorrect, said that for the last 17 months they have been requesting that funding be put in place to allow for independent reviews.

He added: “Many of the families can’t afford to do this as the only system that is available to us is a complicated one and is not cheap.

“Why I never bought into the RCOG review from day one was because I knew it wouldn’t give the women and families all of the answers they require.

“We are all fully aware of the ‘limitations’ of screening, and for some an independent review has highlighted this for them, and now these families can get closure, for others we haven’t been so lucky and our journey continues in the adversarial system only available to us in getting to the truth on what went on in these reviews.”

PA

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