Medical Council comments on cervical screening ‘appropriate’, says Harris

Minister says council’s health information and regulatory role ‘not mutually exclusive’

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said it is “perfectly appropriate” for the Medical Council to put out factual information despite being a regulatory body.

The Medical Council expressed concern on Monday “at the levels of inaccurate information” in the public domain as a result of problems in the operation of the national cervical cancer screening programme.

Dr Rita Doyle, president of the Medical Council said the CervicalCheck programme has decreased the mortality rate by 7 per cent year-on-year since its inception, thus reducing the number of women who die from cervical cancer.

“This in itself is a good news story but [it] has been somewhat lost in the varying issues that have emerged,” she said.


Speaking to RTÉ in Belfast on Tuesday, Mr Harris said: “I don’t think the role of the Medical Council in terms of promoting good factual medical information and also the role they have in relation to a regulatory function, I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.

“I think it’s perfectly appropriate for a medical council, for a medical body to put out factual medical information that can help reassure the public in relation to screening programmes that we know saves lives.”

Mr Harris said on Monday that it was a “very welcome” statement from Dr Doyle, highlighting the “importance of our screening programmes, positive impacts they have had on reducing cancer rates and concern about inaccurate information”.

Dr Doyle said women should be encouraged to take part in the screening process “in the full knowledge that it is a screening test and not a diagnostic one”.

“The fact is, cancer screening saves lives every week however screening is not a diagnostic exercise and there is an acceptable norm of false negative and indeed false positive results,” she said.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times