Sinn Féin TD for Longford-Westmeath Sorca Clarke has called on the government to take action to avoid a crisis in women’s healthcare.
Teachta Clarke said:
“The state of women’s healthcare in this country is in terrible danger of reaching a crisis stage. There are several factors contributing towards this. The fallout from the Cervical Check scandal has resulted in a loss of trust in the HSE by many women in this country.
“I was shocked to learn that cervical cancer checks were 100,000 less last year, before the lockdown, than expected.
“I would like to encourage every woman in this country to please take part in cervical checks and other programmes run by the HSE. The programmes are, despite the mistakes of the past, the most effective and proven way we have of identifying cancers at an early stage and the programme has resulted in a 7% reduction in the number of women with cervical cancer.
“I would also like to emphasise the fact, however, that a lack of trust in the system is not the sole reason that women are not receiving their screenings. It was recently reported that it was stated at the Irish Hospital Consultants Association that over 90% of women did not respond to the invitation for cervical screening. This is simply not true. In order to accept such an invitations women must go through their GPs and, when this is not possible, they are recorded as having not responded.
“There is an onus on the government to facilitate women in being able to avail of these checks as well as to begin to build confidence back up in the system. Women are turning to alternative treatments out of a lack of options and an understandable lack of trust. The government and the healthcare authorities only have themselves to blame for this. The media did not make them conceal information for so long from women falsely diagnosed.
“Another issue is the staff shortages. It is essential that the gaps are filled as soon as possible. The proposed new laboratory in the Coombe hospital may not be opened as scheduled due to a recruitment shortfall. This is according to Fiona Murphy, the National Screening Services Chief. This lab is intended to be opened in 2022 to take over the screening services from Quest Diagnostics. A failure to open this on time would be a disaster.
“According to reports, it could take three years to screen the 153,000 women currently awaiting mammograms, due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the reduced capacity in the health service. There have been suggestions that it could take up to 3 years to clear the backlog.
“On top of all of this we have a huge backlog in gynaecological appointments which is where many women are diagnosed with cancer or referred for testing. This together with the issues surrounding cervical checks, the recruitment shortfall, the possible delay in the opening of the new laboratory in the Coombe and the backlog in Breast Check appointments is creating the perfect storm for a healthcare disaster for women in this country.
“The government must immediately invest in recruiting the adequate numbers of staff to clear these backlogs and ensure the opening of the Coombe hospital laboratory goes ahead as planned. A more streamlined process for women to avail of these checks will also need to be introduced. This is a life or death issue for far too many.”