SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan has called on the Prime Minister to give careful consideration to an open letter sent to him from Team Sorcha calling for a review of the screening age for cervical cancer and not to reply with a simple ‘reflex repeat of the rationale for’ the current policy, which sets the age for screening at 25.
Sorcha Glenn was a 23-year-old woman from Derry who died from cervical cancer. Her original request for a smear test were denied because she was under 25. Her family and friends – under the name Team Sorcha- have written an open letter to the Prime Minister calling on him to reconsider this policy and lower the age at which women can be granted cervical screening.
Speaking during today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Durkan said: “Last weekend was the first anniversary of the death from cervical cancer of Derry girl Sorcha Glenn aged 23. In June 2013 she had been concerned enough to ask for an early smear test but was refused because she was under 25.
“As Team Sorcha – and highlighting other life cases - her family have now written an open letter to the PM. Can I ask him not to offer here a reflex repeat of the rationale for current screening-age policy but to reflect on the questions raised about how this translates into refusing smear tests to young women like Sorcha and to consider the age-related data on cervical cancer since the screening age was increased in 2004?
The Prime Minister replied: “The Hon Gen raises an absolutely tragic case and our thoughts go to family and her friends and he raises an important case because, of course, the UK National Screening Committee set the age at 25 and my understanding of that is, is that it is not a resources based decision. It’s because of the potential of perverse medical consequences of carrying out screening routinely below that age, that would be potentially a number of false positives because of anatomical changes that go on at that age. That is the reason; it is not a resources decision but as he says, it is worth looking at. Those people who fear they have a family history and ask for a test. I will certainly write to him on that issue.”
Mr Durkan added: “Sorcha’s family have campaigned tirelessly over the past year to make screening available to women under the age of 25. Since the screening age was increased in 2004, there has been a reported increase in the number of young women contracting cervical cancer. Team Sorcha’s open letter to the Prime Minister powerfully sets out age-related data on this issue. Regardless of the rationale for the current guidance, I ask him to adhere to the recommendation of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that the age range for cervical screening policies should be kept under review dependent upon incidence and mortality rates. I would strongly urge the Prime Minister to encourage the Secretary of State for Health and other Health Ministers to consider this letter and the wider campaign carefully.”