Concerns of ‘inaccurate information’ over smear tests

The Medical Council has said it is concerned “at the levels of inaccurate information” that are in the public domain as a result of the recent CervicalCheck difficulties.

It said that cancer screening saved lives every week but that screening was not a diagnostic exercise and there was an acceptable norm of false negative and false positive results.

In a statement issued this evening, headed ‘Statement from President of the Medical Council in relation to the Cervical Check Scandal’, its new President, Dr Rita Doyle, said the CervicalCheck programme had decreased the mortality rate by 7% year on year since its inception, reducing the number of women who die from cervical cancer.

Dr Doyle said this was “a good news story” but had been somewhat lost in the varying issues that have emerged.

She also said that if there are issues around professional performance or conduct, relating to individual doctors, they will be investigated and dealt with by the Medical Council, in a fair manner, according to its procedures and regulatory powers.

Dr Doyle said she was aware of reports of a recent development of a bottleneck in the analysis of cervical smears, whereby smears are not analysed in a timely fashion, forcing the women to re-attend and the doctor to repeat the smear.

She said this was unacceptable to both patients and doctors.

Dr Doyle said it could have the potential to have a further negative impact on public confidence in screening services, which would be very concerning.

After the controversy erupted, the Government said all women with concerns could have repeat smears.

In response to the Medical Council statement, Stephen McMahon of the Irish Patients Association, called on the council to “identify basically the fake news” that it is concerned about.

He said that many people from within the system and close to the sad events had done a lot to inform society.

Mr McMahon said that the Medical Council, an impartial regulatory body, in an “unprecedented statement”, had used the term “scandal” and this may cause problems in any of its future hearings of any complaints against a doctor, particularly if the council was to initiate a complaint.

He said it was also unfortunate that the council statement did not make any acknowledgement to the women and those close to them of their tragic experiences.

Asked by RTÉ News if the CervicalCheck statement had been approved by the full Medical Council – which has medical and lay members – a spokesperson said it was from and signed off by Dr Doyle, in her capacity as President of the council.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he thinks the role of the Medical Council in terms of promoting factual medical information and also its role in regulating the profession are not mutually exclusive.

He said it was perfectly appropriate for the council to provide factual information on cervical screening that helps reassure the public about screening programmes that save lives.

Author: Fergal Bowers