By Olivia Kelleher
The HSE needs to urgently address Covid-19 restrictions as it is unacceptable a woman in this country can now go buy paint in Woodies but is unable to get a potentially life saving smear test, according to to a father of two who lost his young wife to cervical cancer.
Stephen Teap of Carrigaline, Co Cork whose wife Irene died arising out of deficiencies in Cervical Check, has said health screenings need to be reinstated as soon as is safely possible.
Irene died in July 2017 when their children Oscar and Noah were just four and two. She was diagnosed with Stage two cancer in 2015, following two false negative smear tests in 2010 and 2013.
Mr Teap says that a proper road map needs to be put in place for reopening screening because cancer does not pause in the midst of a pandemic.
“Nobody is questioning why they were paused given what was going on but it was paused without any plan on how it was going to reopen.
“You can go in to Woodies and B&Q to get a tin of paint but the screening services are still not being re opened or there is no plan being produced as to how it is going to be done.
“There has to be a plan in place or something transparent being worked on. Obviously a screening programme will have to be operated differently with Covid 19 given the restrictions that are in place and with PPE and everything.
“It is the HSE voice I want to hear. Are they working on a plan?”
Since the death of Irene Stephen has fought for accountability and improvements within the system in Ireland. He says that screening cannot be put on the long finger leading to delayed diagnoses and treatment for impacted persons.
“There has been a lot of positive work within the screening services so the last thing we need is a backlog. The longer we go without the screening services the bigger the backlog is going to be.
Then you have people who might not be showing physical symptoms but have early indicators which a screening programme may pick up.”
Meanwhile, Irish journalist Peter Cluskey who in 2018 lost his wife Adrienne Cullen (58) to cancer as a result of medical negligence at a Dutch Hospital says there is a delicate balance to be achieved in terms of health screenings and dealing with Covid-19.
He believes every effort has to be made to row out services in a timely manner.
“Of course, everything possible has to be done to prevent any new flare-up of Covid-19. On the other hand, screening for other conditions, including cervical cancer, has to resume as quickly as possible to ensure that lives are not lost because the tests are not being carried out.
“Governments are telling cancer patients and people with other illnesses that national health services are open for business other than Covid-19.
Having cancer is a frightening experience. Having cancer in an environment where corconavirus is the medical priority and is swallowing all resources must be terrifying.
The fear of being forgotten by the system that should be there to support you in your hour of need – something Adrienne experienced here in the Netherlands – that’s the loneliest and most frightening experience of all.”
Ms Cullen, who lived in the Netherlands with her husband, successfully sued her hospital, UMC Utrecht, for medical negligence after it “lost” test results in 2011 that showed she had cervical cancer.
The hospital reportedly found the results two years later in 2013, by which time her cancer was terminal. A memorial lecture is held at the hospital in her memory every year.
The Limerick woman was a journalist, author and English language editor. Prior to her death she said that people like her are always told that their cases are “once off events.”
“These are the lies beind medical error. In reality, across the EU each year, almost 100,000 people die as a result of an avoidable mistake made during medical treatment.”
The HSE indicated at their weekly Covid 19 briefing this morning that it could not give a set date for the resumption of cervical, breast, bowel and retinopathy screening programmes. Screening for such services stopped on March 27th.
Chief Clinical Officer Colm Henry says there is different plans looking at volume, the type of screening test and focusing on high priority groups. Any model of screening will have to factor in social distancing measures.
HSE CEO Paul Reid says a plan on how to restart all non essential procedures including screening services will be finalised in the coming weeks.
“It will be phased and it will be clinically prioritised and guided by the public health measures that we monitor.”