Tuesday 18 June 2019

Around 70 doctors drafted in after flood of calls to helpline over cervical cancer

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Around 70 doctors and nurses have now been drafted in to staff a helpline for people concerned about the cervical cancer scandal that is receiving 2,000 calls a day.

The Department of Health has said the number of calls being received is “much higher than expected”.

As a result, it has had to assign extra medics to the helpline and is now receiving assistance from experts who normally work with the Irish Cancer Society and Marie Keating Foundation.

Women have complained they are struggling to get through to the call centre. And even when they do, most are simply asked to supply their details and told they will be called back at some stage over the coming days.

HSE’s chief clinical officer Colm Henry defended the process, saying the calls take some time to deal with properly. He said in some instances doctors were spending 25 minutes on the line to individuals.

A report compiled by the Serious Incident Management Team, which is overseeing the response to the ongoing scandal, said that between Saturday and Tuesday the helpline received 5,305 calls.

This is understood to have accelerated again following news that the number of women affected by delayed diagnosis is likely to be much larger than the 208 originally reported. Of those 5,305 calls, there is a requirement for a call-back in the case of 4,876 women.

“A specialist team has been put in place to provide these call-backs and this is being supplement due to the volume of requests for information,” the report stated.

It also acknowledged that there were “technical issues” with the service when it was set up last Saturday, and again on Monday. The HSE has apologised for the problem.

“There has been a much higher than expected number of calls and the helpline staffing has been increased to respond to this demand,” it said.

Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman Stephen Donnelly told the Oireachtas Health Committee that women needed to be reassured about their own cases and the validity of the national screening programme.

“There is a lot of fear out there and it seems the helpline put in place is not adequate to address the fear,” he said.

Irish Independent

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