CervicalCheck committee patient advocate says she was bullied

Lorraine Walsh describes her experience of steering committee as ‘horrendous’

Cancer survivor Lorraine Walsh told the Oireachtas health committee she was made to feel ‘stupid and irrelevant’ as a patient advocate on the CervicalCheck steering committee. File photograph: Tom Honan

Cancer survivor Lorraine Walsh told the Oireachtas health committee she was made to feel ‘stupid and irrelevant’ as a patient advocate on the CervicalCheck steering committee. File photograph: Tom Honan

 

Patient advocate Lorraine Walsh has said she was “dismissed, ignored, bullied and threatened” by the Department of Health while working as a patient advocate on the CervicalCheck steering committee.

Ms Walsh described her treatment on the committee, which was set up to effect improvements in the State’s cervical cancer screening committee, as “horrendous”.

She was made to feel “stupid and irrelevant” and told there would be “serious consequences” if she continued to speak out, she told the Oireachtas health committee on Tuesday evening.

As she raised her concerns about the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) review of smears taken under CervicalCheck at the steering committee in October, she said she was “placated” and told “they did not like my tone”.

“I knew what they meant, so I retreated to a position of silence.” She resigned from the committee at the end of October.

Ms Walsh and fellow advocate Stephen Teap both restated their lack of confidence in the RCOG review. However, they also called for a rebuilding of trust between healthcare professionals and patients.

“Perhaps we have established as much of the truth as is possible and the time has come to come out of the trenches and focus on better futures and outcomes for women and their families,” Ms Walsh said.

“We must recognise and acknowledge that clinicians feel unsupported, isolated and undervalued. All involved have felt the strain but in different ways. As patients we must value the concerns of the clinicians on whom we rely. The healthcare professionals, such as colposcopists, nurses and smear-takers are essential to the provision and promotion of good care and healing and deserve support.”

Mr Teap, whose wife Irene died of cervical cancer, said the importance of patient representatives and medical professionals working together “with one voice to give a view from the ground up” could not be underestimated.

Ms Walsh, who has survived cervical cancer, said her own experience of the RCOG review “has not been positive or reassuring”. She said there were issues with the information coming to the HSE from RCOG and mislabelling occurred in her own and other cases.

The RCOG result did not “look at the full picture” as only a little over half of the women invited to participate actually did so. The results were “skewed” because cases that should have been classified as inconclusive when they were marked as being concordant with the original smear test result.

“Where a system produces incorrect reports subsequently spotted by the women concerned the reliability and the accuracy of all reports cannot be trusted.”

“My experience of RCOG has been catastrophic and I couldn’t have any faith in it,” she told the committee.

Mr Teap called for a more structured platform for patient representatives, access to independent reviews for affected women and more resources to ensure all the recommendations of the Scally report are implemented.

HSE and RCOG representatives will appear before the committee on Wednesday.