Council to lobby for lower cervical screening age after Derry woman’s death

SDLP Councillor Angela Dobbins. 1708JM04
SDLP Councillor Angela Dobbins. 1708JM04

Derry City Council are to call on Health Minister Jim Wells to lower the age limit for cervical screening following the death of young Derry woman Sorcha Glenn.

SDLP Councillor Angela Dobbins proposed the move as she told Tuesday afternoon’s Full Council meeting that a petition has now been started to this effect, and has already been signed by 10,000 people.

Sorcha Glenn was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 22 and spent the last few months of her life encouraging women to go for screening.

She campaigned for a change in law so that screening would commence at 20 years of age instead of the current 25.

She was laid to rest on Monday at the age of just 23.

Speaking at the meeting in the Guildhall after standing orders were suspended at her request, Mrs Dobbins told those gathered that Sorcha had been “an inspiration” to many.

She pointed out that 105 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, with 24 dying as a result.

Mrs Dobbins said lowering the age from 25 to 20 would “encourage women to have greater awareness of their reproductive health at a younger age.”

She urged that GPs could grant women under 25 smears but that there had been difficulties in accessing these services.

Addressing the chair of the council, Mayor Brenda Stevenson, Mrs Dobbins said: “I would ask Madam Mayor that you and this council recognise the need to raise awareness of gynaecological cancers; and call on the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety Jim wells to look at the age limit of cervical screenings with the view of lowering it to aid early detection and therefore improve survival rates.”

Mayor Stevenson said she had no difficulty whatsoever in doing what was proposed.

Sinn Fein Councillor Elisha McCallion meanwhile said that given the sensitivities involved, it would be worthwhile sending their sympathies to the Glenn family.

“Far too often we hear the phrase ‘prevention is better than cure’ but with this particular cancer, prevention is something that can aid these victims if it is detected early.”

She also proposed that the current chairperson of the Assembly Health Committee, Foyle MLA Maeve McLaughlin, be contacted over the issue.

“This is a real issue that affects more and more young women,” Colr. McCallion said. “We have no issue in supporting this. If I could just encourage young women out there if there is anyone out there who has fears, they can demand a smear from your GP and you should be able to receive it.

“Women under 25 can get it if they demand it.”

She said that anyone experiencing difficulties in accessing services should contact local councillors on the matter.

DUP Councillor Gary Middleton said his party would also back the proposal and said that Sorcha had been “moving and inspirational” in a radio interview she gave prior to her death.

UUP Councillor Mary Hamilton said she also fully supported the proposal.

The Mayor said she would now convene a meeting with Ms McLaughln and any interested parties within council.