HEALTH MATTERS: “Huge questions remain” on cervical screening programme

By Lucy Ashton

Responding to an update from the SNP regarding the wrongful exclusion of women from the Scottish Cervical Screening Programme, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, pictured right,  said:  “This update only scratches the surface. Huge questions remain about how this error went undiscovered for so long, and why Ministers withheld details about it until after the election.

“This also does little to settle the serious anxieties many women and their families will be experiencing. Active risks remain for some, and signposting people to their GP isn’t enough support. The Scottish Government have a responsibility to ensure these women can access all the urgent and comprehensive care they need.

“This serves as a tragic reminder of the importance of cancer screening services, and of how important it is to see these programmes rebooted to deal with the post pandemic backlog as soon as possible.

The matter was raised at Holyrood by Gillian Martin MSP who asked the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress reviewing the cases of individuals whose records indicate they may have had a subtotal hysterectomy before 1997 but who have been excluded from the Scottish Cervical Screening Programme.

Minister Maree Todd, left, replied: that by the end of July, all Health Boards had completed the audit of cases where individuals have been excluded from the cervical screening programme despite their records indicating they may have had subtotal hysterectomies before 1997.

Further work was then carried out to collate and analyse the findings. By Wednesday 18 August, around 174 letters were issued by Boards to all those who have been identified as requiring to be re-instated in the programme, or to be offered a gynaecological appointment either because it is not clear from their records if the exclusion is appropriate, or because their age means they are no longer eligible for cervical screening.

In total, 484 records were reviewed. Of these:

  • 204 individuals were found to have been correctly excluded and no further action is necessary.
  • 39 individuals have been wrongly excluded and are still in the eligible age range for screening. These patients will be re-instated to the programme and asked to contact their GP practice to make an appointment for screening.
  • 46 individuals have been wrongly excluded but are now no longer eligible for screening due to their age. These patients will be offered an appointment at a gynaecology clinic.
  • 89 individuals’ records did not allow a determination to be made on the appropriateness of their exclusion. These patients will also be offered an appointment at a gynaecology clinic.
  • A small number of individuals are no longer resident in Scotland. Efforts will be made to trace them, and they will be re-instated in the screening programme so that they will be invited again for screening should they return to Scotland.
  • 100 individuals are now deceased. As noted in the statement given to Parliament on 24 June, a review is being carried out into the deaths of anyone who may have been excluded in error from the programme to verify whether cervical cancer was a main or contributory cause of death.

The care pathways in place for anyone written to in August are the same as for all those written to at the end of June. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust also continue to offer support through their helpline services. The helpline can be reached by calling 0808 802 8000 or emailing helpline@jostrust.org. If anyone believes they have had a subtotal hysterectomy and therefore thinks they should have received a letter, Jo’s Trust will also be able to redirect them to a Health Board contact.

We recognise the anxiety anyone receiving a letter will almost certainly feel, and we are sorry for that. It is important to stress that the risk of developing cervical cancer is extremely low – less than 1 in 100 women will develop it in their lifetimes.

As we have stressed throughout this incident, anyone who is experiencing symptoms of cervical cancer – that is anyone experiencing unusual discharge, or bleeding after sex, between periods or after the menopause – should make an appointment with their GP practice. More information on symptoms is available on NHS Inform.

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