Hopefully 'putting women first' will mean receiving test results in a timely manner

Hopefully 'putting women first' will mean receiving test results in a timely manner
Unrelated image of lab technician

Do you remember the summer of 2012? The months of June and July specifically, when 600,000 people were left without access to their Ulster Bank accounts?

There was nationwide consternation. There was wall-to-wall media coverage. And words like "failure", "collapse of systems" and "unprecedented" populated the narrative around the financial furore.

What followed was a Central Bank fine of up to €5m for the IT failure and Ulster Bank's parent group, the Royal Bank of Scotland, was fined €64m by UK regulators.

In the summer of 2019, news broke of another IT failure, only this time it related to health and not wealth, and women's health specifically.

Another CervicalCheck issue had emerged, where 4,080 women failed to receive their result of a test for HPV (human papillomavirus).

For nearly 900 of them it meant their results were not issued to them, or their GP in many cases. For around 3,200 women, their doctors got the letters, but the women did not.

Delayed access to cash is one thing, delayed access to medical results is a whole other thing entirely. HPV can lead to cervical cancer, and cervical cancer, as we now well know, can be fatal.

Emma Mhich Mhathúna lost her life last October at the age of 37 following a terminal cancer diagnosis after an incorrect smear test result. Vickie Phelan is terminally ill. Ruth Morrissey is terminally ill. And these are just some of the women we know about.

In the handling of this latest CervicalCheck fiasco, the phrase "IT glitch" has been regularly used.

In HSE communication, the latest blunder was described as caused by "IT problems". These were problems "that impacted on how result letters were electronically triggered".

If you are a woman awaiting medical test results from a screening service that has already been beset with a litany of errors, how comforted would you feel by the above statement? How respected would you feel?

For anyone awaiting any kind of test results, would your frustration at a lengthy delay be in any way assuaged by language such as "electronically triggered"?

There was also the language of a "number of women" or a "small number of women". Is 800 or 900 a fair reflection of a "number of women"? Is 52 a fair reflection of a "small number of women"?

One potentially endangered life, all because of an "IT glitch" in a US lab, is a more than a serious issue.

Dr Gabriel Scally, in his 2018 report into the CerivalCheck smear scandal, described a stark culture of misogyny and paternalism that left 221 women in the dark on their smear test audits.

“This whole episode of poorly handled open disclosure created enormous psychological difficulties and, in some cases, mental illness amongst women," Dr Scally said, not mincing his words.

He added that most of the maltreatment of patients in our health service seems to involve women.

He went on:

"The point was made that many of the major controversies about maltreatment of patients or denial of reproductive rights in the Irish healthcare system have involved women being damaged."

A whistle-stop stop tour of Irjsh medical history shows the lives of women being put in danger time and time again; from non-consensual symphysiotomies to non-consensual hysterectomies.

There are also the women who travelled after receiving fatal diagnoses for their much-wanted babies to receive care in England.

And we thought this was all consigned to the past, but still it goes on.

Hopefully 'putting women first' will mean receiving test results in a timely manner

Yesterday, at the launch of this latest CervicalCheck, Professor Brian MacCraith - who conducted an independent review into the delayed results -was asked what kind of system we lived in when women had to send in parliamentary questions in order to access their own medical information.

The HSE's plan now is to develop a culture of "putting women first".

Hopefully this new culture will involve women receiving test results in a timely manner and not having to seek media attention or political intervention in order to access their own medical information.

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