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Communicating screening limitations ‘a constant challenge’ — Flannelly

At the annual meeting, which took place on 8-9 November at Croke Park, Prof Flannelly was praised by colleagues who said she was known for her compassion, dedication and advocacy on women’s health issues.

Speaking about CervicalCheck, Prof Flannelly, Consultant Gynaecologist, St Vincent’s University Hospital (SVUH), Dublin, said that organised call and recall should now be restored to allow the Programme “to balance and stabilise”. Opportunistic cervical cancer screening was not cost-effective and capacity planning and quality assurance was difficult, she outlined.

She said screening had limitations and it was a “constant challenge to get those limitations across”. However, she said CervicalCheck had been effective in reducing cervical cancer rates in Ireland.

Prof Flannelly spoke about the Programme’s achievements, saying it was reaching its target of 80 per cent coverage of the population. She said other countries were asking how Ireland attained these impressive rates.

While Ireland had relatively more cervical cancers in comparison with some other countries, this was due to the later establishment of important cancer prevention services, she said.

“We forget, in 2018, that in 2007 we didn’t have a cervical screening programme and we didn’t have a HPV vaccination programme. Our cervical cancer rates were nothing to be proud of,” she told the conference.

While women over the age of 50 were much less likely to be up-to-date in their screening, 86 per cent of the country’s 25-to-29 year-olds were up-to-date, outlined Prof Flannelly.

Consultant Oncologist at SVUH Prof John Crown, who also presented at the conference, said “if there is one person to whom many hundreds of Irish women owe their lives, it’s Gráinne Flannelly”. He claimed the way Prof Flannelly had been treated was “appalling”. Prof Flannelly stood down as Clinical Director in April, following comments by Minister for Health Simon Harris that he had lost confidence in senior management at CervicalCheck.

In the context of the Scally Report, Prof Crown said the NHS had taken disclosing errors “very, very seriously”, planning its introduction over two or three years and providing training for doctors.

“In Ireland, in the heat of the moment… our Minister basically told doctors they had 24 hours to tell patients of the results of their audits with no training. And surprise, surprise, we subsequently found out in the Scally Report that sometimes that information was given in ways that were less than optimal.”

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