Thursday 29 June 2017

Medics condemn cancer vaccine U-turn

Under fire: Mary Harney. Photo: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images
Under fire: Mary Harney. Photo: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

Teenage girls "will die unnecessarily" as a result of the cancellation of the cervical cancer vaccination programme, it was warned yesterday.

The decision by Health Minister Mary Harney to halt the roll out of the €10m programme came under fire from women's groups and from the opposition in the Dail yesterday.

The Dublin Well Woman Centre condemned the move on the grounds that the vaccination programme, due to begin for 26,000 10 to 12-year-old girls next September, would have cut rates of cervical cancer by up to 70pc.

"While short-term budget savings may be made by not proceeding with the vaccination programme, the reality is that unnecessary deaths will arise among the cohort of girls who were to be targeted," its chief executive Alison Begas said.

The Human Papillomavirus Vaccine, which was only announced in August, would have prevented girls from contracting a virus which can cause cervical cancer in later years.

Diagnosed

Cervical cancer is the eighth most frequently diagnosed cancer in women in Ireland. In 2004 alone, 200 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer, while more than 90 died of the disease. But Health Minister Mary Harney has put the vaccination programme on hold because the economic situation had "rapidly and seriously deteriorated".

In the Dail, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny criticised the move at a time when health service staff are due to receive 3.5pc pay increases worth €236m next year.

"The amount of money involved is tiny and in the context of the long-term saving of lives, the Government's action is short-sighted," he said.

Mr Kenny also criticised the timing of the announcement on polling day for the US Presidential election by referring to the famous comment of a (later sacked) British government spindoctor on September 11 2001 -- " a good day to bury bad news".

But Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he rejected this perception of cynicism and pessimism. He defended the decision by pointing to the €15m provided in the Budget for the rollout of the national cancer control programme and the €35m national cervical screening programme.

"The programme will provide free smear tests through primary care settings to the 1.1 million women living in Ireland aged between 25 and 60 years. A successful national programme has the potential to cut mortality rates from cervical cancer by up to 80pc, and we will proceed along that line," he said.

Mr Cowen pointed out that the HSE was subject to the same 10-month pay pause under the social partnership agreement as other public sector employees. The proposed increase of 3.5pc will come into force in October 1 next year.

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