‘Why are we failing young women?’

Sinn Fein Councillor Caoimhe McKnight.
Sinn Fein Councillor Caoimhe McKnight.

Derry City & Strabane District Council has backed a motion calling for women under 25 to be given smear tests.

The motion was tabled by Sinn Fein Councillor Caoimhe McKnight at a recent full council meeting

Colr. McKnight called on fellow councillors to recognise that cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers in women, and to write to the Permanent Secretary for Health and to the Minister for Health in the south urging them to reconsider their over 25s only screening policy.

Speaking on her motion, which called for females to be granted a smear test regardless of age if they wanted it, and for the age limit for routine testing to be changed, Colr. McKnight related how she was called to a smear test at 21 while living in Scotland where the age limit is lower.She said that abnormal cells were discovered and she received treatment at the time. “The main point of this story is, if I had been living in my home town this wouldn’t have been offered to me until I was 25 and if I had waited until the age of 25 to get a smear test I dread to think what the results would have been. I really don’t think I’d be sitting here today.

“Why are we are we continuing to fail young women? Cervical cancer is preventable and cervical screening is the best way to prevent this cancer.”

Colr. McKnight said that the evidence showed that cervical cancer develops more rapidly in young women and that this would explain why the number of young women diagnosed with cervical cancer aged between 25 and 29 years old has more than doubled since the age of screening was increased from 20 to 25. “A review is currently happening in England but it should also happen here,” she said.

While supporting the motion, SDLP Colr. Angela Dobbins said she had raised this issue through a similar motion in 2014 and that councillors at the time had unanimously agreed to write to then Health Minister, Jim Wells, to raise awareness of gynaecological cancers and smear testing following the death of young Derry woman, Sorcha Glenn.

“Four years later, two DUP, and lately Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, held the Ministerial position for Health, I find it ironic that we are once again here with a similar motion and it is proposed by a party that held that position latterly.”

Colr. Dobbins said that while GPs had the authority to grant a woman under 25 a smear test if they asked, there have been cases were women had had difficulty in obtaining this, while there were also occasions when laboratories had refused to test samples, something Colr. Dobbins argued also needed addressed.

DUP Ald. Hilary McClintock said: “All of us whose lives have been touched by cancer in any way, couldn’t fail to support this motion, especially when it is about a preventable and treatable cancer. We all remember the tragic case of Sorcha Glenn.”

Colr. McKnight thanked Colr. Dobbins for bringing her motion back in 2014 and said it should have been brought up in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 “until someone starts listening.”