Scottish ministers must explain why a “scandal” which resulted in women being “wrongly excluded” from vital cancer checks was not resolved earlier.
Labour health spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, demanded answers from the Scottish Government after documents released under Freedom of Information raised concerns about some women being taken off the list for smear tests – which check for signs of cervical cancer – back in 2016.
NHS papers revealed that audit work and “clean-up exercises” were carried out by health boards in 2016 and 2017 after “anomalies” were discovered among some women who had partial hysterectomies.
The records of 134 women were examined between July and September 2016, another paper said, adding that 29 of these patients were found to have been “inappropriately excluded from the screening cohort”.
Labour added that a further review in 2017 revealed 11 more women were found to have been wrongfully excluded.
But it was not till June 2021 that public health minister Maree Todd told MSPs of the issues – adding that one woman had died after being removed from the list for screening in error.
Ms Todd said then that a health board audit in December 2020 “discovered a very small number of women had developed cervical cancer after being wrongly excluded from the screening programme following a hysterectomy”.
In the wake of that, health boards reviewed the records of 484 patients, with 174 of these women being contacted to make appointments for cervical cancer checks.
With ministers due to give an update on the situation on Wednesday, Ms Baillie said the documents provided “clear evidence of the SNP Government’s failure to protect the health and wellbeing of some of Scotland’s most vulnerable women”.
The Labour deputy leader demanded answers, saying: “By taking their eye off the ball the Government has allowed the true scale of this scandal to be hidden for many more years than need be.
“Lives have been put at risk, and tragically at least one life has been lost. This is not good enough.”
Ms Baillie added: “When the minister makes her statement to the parliament this week, she must say why this scandal was not resolved when suspicions were raised so many years ago.”
While most patients undergoing a hysterectomy have their uterus and cervix removed completely, some women have a “sub-total hysterectomy” where part of the cervix can be left behind – and these women still require to be screened for cervical cancer.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “In the course of previous investigations into data discrepancies within the screening system, a number of incorrect exclusions were discovered.
“Every case identified at the time was rigorously reviewed, and it was believed that all errors had been found and resolved.
“Since March 2021, our priority has been to review as quickly as possible the records of those who appear to have had subtotal hysterectomies and been wrongly excluded.
“However, given the incidents that have subsequently come to light, it is clear that we must also review whether opportunities were missed that would have allowed us to understand the full scope of the issue earlier.
“The Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport will update Parliament on this on Wednesday and the wider work to manage the issue of inappropriate exclusions.”
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