Dr Ciara Kelly: What is the solution to health screening crisis?
I've grave concerns about health screening in Ireland. Not just cervical cancer screening, but also breast cancer screening, colorectal screening, retinal screening - all of them. And not the concerns you might have - that our screening is terrible, has misled people, engaged in cover-ups and been embroiled in scandals. No, not that. My concern is that we're on a path that may actually lead to health screening here being abandoned.
I've worked in medicine for 20 years and I understand the limitations of screening. I understand that high-volume, broad-stroke testing has false negatives - tests that are marked normal but where an abnormality is, in fact, present. And also false positives - tests that are marked abnormal, but no actual abnormality is present, but women are unfortunately put through unnecessary further tests and lots of anxiety as a result.
These are significant limitations and every possible effort should be made to keep them to a minimum, but they'll always exist to some extent. No screening programme in the world has eliminated them - it's the nature of screening. But, more importantly, I understand the huge benefits of screening. I understand the benefit of having a test that's acceptable in terms of invasiveness, and that's relatively fast and cheap, so that the whole population can be tested in a timely and affordable way. And its central benefit - that it has reduced the incidence of cancer by up to two thirds, and has saved thousands of lives - is a vital public health service. Screening has stopped innumerable Irish people from dying of cancer.