HSE Move Endangers Women

Article excerpt

Byline: JOE HIGGINS

THE incremental privatisation of areas of the Health Services, relentlessly pushed along under the Government of Cowen, Harney and Gormley, is sometimes referred as the Americanisation of the Irish health system.

What has not really registered with most people is, that it is literally the case that one crucial area of Health is being moved to the United States, resulting in a disastrous loss of critical areas of expertise to the Irish Health Service.

Screening for cervical cancer is a vital service to drastically reduce the development of this awful disease in Irish women. A national screening programme is about to be implemented to include every woman between the ages of 25 and 60 who will be tested every three to five years, depending on age.

The first step involves taking a scraping of cells from the cervix (neck of the uterus). The next step is really crucial. It involves the examination, under a microscope, of the test cells by a scientist who is checking for abnormalities that would indicate a danger of cancer developing.

This is a very specialised branch of medical laboratory science called cervical cytology. Some 300,000 tests will be examined each year from now on. Incredibly, the Health Service Executive has decided that, instead of laboratories in Irish public hospitals doing the tests and being given the resources to do them, they will be sent, for at least the next two years, to a private company in the U.S., Quest Diagnostics Inc.

The consequences of this decision are calamitous for the public health system here. Until now, cervical cytology has been an important part of the work of public hospital laboratories. Now, however, because of the HSE decision, staff in these labs will have to be redeployed out of the Cytology Departments, a process that is already underway.

This means that in a few years when a new tender is circulated for the following years tests, no Irish public hospital will be able to apply as they will not have the expert personnel or capacity in their Cytology Department.

By any standards this is a reckless decision. It could mean a permanent loss of specialised skills in this State especially in the public health service. This in turn would mean a permanent privatisation of the entire cervical cancer screening programme. And not only privatisation, but the transfer to the United States, thousands of miles from here, of a crucial function of the health service that is critically important for women in Ireland. …