A consultant has warned that frontline staff with the CervicalCheck service are bearing the brunt of public anger and are being subjected to abuse and abusive language.
Dr Nóirín Russell, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Cork University Maternity Hospital and lead colposcopist with Kerry Colposcopy Service at University Hospital Kerry, said that the last 18 months have been incredibly difficult for women as a result of reporting around the CervicalCheck review.
Following a report in the Irish Examiner which revealed that 15 doctors who oversee the service nationwide are now threatening to leave, Dr Russell told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that the situation, combined with increased waiting times as a result of out-of-programme smear tests, has resulted in a lot of anger among women.
She said that while she understood the anger and frustration, it had escalated into abuse and abusive language against administrative and nursing staff around the country who run colposcopy clinics.
Prior to April 2018, she said, 98% of women were seen within eight weeks of being referred.
However, there are now long waiting lists.
A “perfect storm” had been created where stressed and anxious women were ringing staff who were themselves under pressure.
Dr Russell explained that her team is the diagnostic and treatment arm of the CervicalCheck programme.
They look for evidence of abnormal cells if a woman is referred following a smear test.
If abnormal cells are found, then treatment can be delivered, under local anaesthetic, to remove the cells.
Although doctors do not read the slides, she said, they are the frontline of the service.
While patients do not have the opportunity to speak to lab or cytology staff, they are able to speak to the staff providing the colposcopy service, which means the staff are on the receiving end of the anger and frustration.
I understand the anger. I understand the frustration but we became recipients of that on the frontline and it's been really, really damaging for staff.
Dr Russell said that she and her team believe in CervicalCheck. But they need support from all circles including the media, the Health Service Executive and the women who use the service.
“We really want to see this programme flourish. We want to see it supported because we know that screening and HPV vaccinations are the best way to achieve our goal of eradicating cervical cancer in Ireland.
“We need that support as medical professionals.
"But we also need the support of the media, the politicians, the Department of Health, the HSE and very importantly, we need the women - the 1.2 million women who are eligible for cervical screening - to support the programme.”