Supporting Cervical Cancer Screening

Cancer screening saves lives

Screening services in Ireland, including the CervicalCheck programme, have saved many lives.

Since the inception of the CervicalCheck programme in 2008, the incidence of cervical cancer has fallen on a yearly basis with over 50,000 high grade precancerous lesions detected and treated.

As a college, we are fully committed to supporting essential screening services and maintaining trust in our screening programmes.

Screening programmes are essential public health initiatives and RCPI, together with its Faculties and Institute, is actively engaging with all stakeholders to ensure that these services are maintained and available to the public. 

Here you will find a summary of the activities undertaken since 2018 to support cancer screening services in Ireland.

Irish women deserve enormous credit for being so proactive about managing their health with 80% attending for smear tests under the CervicalCheck program over the last 10 years. As a result of such high levels of attendance we have seen a progressive decrease in the incidence of cervical cancer over the last decade.

Professor Dónal Brennan

Professor of Gynaecological Oncology, UCD and Member of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Responding to the CervicalCheck controversy

The Scoping Inquiry into the CervicalCheck Screening Programme resulted in a series of recommendations that relate to medical training and education.

We examined these recommendations closely and developed an implementation plan. To date, this led to an educational event on Women's Health, detailed below, and a free online course called Understanding Population Cancer Screening.

We are engaging extensively with a wide range of stakeholders to support screening and represent the views and concerns of our Trainees, Members and Fellows who are providing vital screening services.

We were asked by the HSE to provide any information from clinicians that might be relevant in considering the implications of the Cross Judgement for screening in Ireland in light of its appeal to the Supreme Court.

Our note, which cites international evidence, outlines

  • The basis for establishing and implementing screening programmes
  • The factors to be considered before determining whether a programme delivers more positive than negative outcomes and whether it should be continued
  • How the judgement might impact on the cervical screening programme
  • The potential consequences of changes in practice that might follow the adoption of this judgement

We brought these matters to the attention of the HSE to ensure that due consideration is given to the possible unforeseen consequences that might result from changes to practice as a result of the judgement.

Representing our members' views

Many of our Members and Fellows are actively involved in dealing with concerns surrounding screening programmes. 

The Deans of the Faculties of Pathology, Public Health Medicine Prof Louise Burke and Prof Emer Shelley and the Chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Dr Cliona Murphy, have, together with their colleagues, been actively engaging with the Department of Health, the HSE and other agencies on aspects of screening. Representatives have joined various committees that are inputting into the screening services and bringing the concerns of our Trainees, Members and Fellows to them. 

Professor Mary Horgan, RCPI President, is a member of the CervicalCheck Steering Committee established by the Chief Medical officer, which also includes patient advocates.

Screening programmes are essential public health initiatives and RCPI, together with its Faculties and Institute, will continue to actively engage with all stakeholders to represent our members’ views and ensure the maintenance of cancer screening services for the public.

Dr Gabriel Scally’s report into the CervicalCheck screening programme made a series of recommendations that relate to medical training and education. RCPI and its training bodies are taking a leadership role at this critical time. Recent events have highlighted the limitations of screening and as healthcare professionals we are committed to supporting these essential services.

Professor Mary Horgan

President, Royal College of Physicians of Ireland

Educational and scientific event focused on Women’s Health

We held a one day educational and scientific event, Women’s Health, on 28 November 2018.

The event was organised by the Faculties of Pathology and Public Health Medicine and the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to explore issues arising from the CervicalCheck controversy. It was an opportunity to bring together medical experts, patient representatives, politicians and policy makers to consider Dr Gabriel Scally’s recommendations as they apply to medical practice, communication and women's health.

Among those who spoke were Minister for Health Simon Harris, Professor Marion Saville, a Cytopathologist and expert in the area of HPV and screening in Australia, Professor Deborah Money, a world-leading expert in infectious diseases in obstetrics and gynecology from the University of British Columbia in Canada, and Ms Lorraine Walsh, patient representative on the National Screening Committee.

You can view the full programme for the event here (PDF)

We have made a number of talks from this event available to watch on YouTube.

View the full playlist on YouTube

Lorraine Walsh, Patient advocate, member of the 221 group and of the National Screening Committee, speaking at our Women's Health event in November 2018

Professor Mary Horgan speaking at our Women's Health event in November 2018

View the full playlist for our Women's Health event on Youtube

Public statements on this topic

Below you will find a list of statements issued by RCPI and its Faculties and Institute in relation to cancer screening since 2018.

3 December 2019- RCPI Statement- The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland encourages women to continue to avail of cervical screening services

14 November 2019 - An update on our support for cancer screening programmes in Ireland

26 June 2019 - New online population cancer screening course announced for doctors and healthcare professionals

10 May 2019 - Royal College of Physicians of Ireland calls for screening programmes to be supported

10 May 2019 - The Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists notes the recent landmark judgement of Justice Cross

16 May 2018 - RCPI Faculty of Pathology establishes Expert Advisory Group on Cervical Screening Pathology

15 May 2018 - Facts about cervical cancer and screening (Professor Dónal Brennan)

8 May 2018 - RCPI Faculty of Pathology says cervical screening remains the most reliable and effective way of preventing and detecting early cancers

Media coverage of our comments on this topic

4 December- Prof Donal Brennan, RTE Morning Ireland- Response regarding RCOG Review

5 December 2019- Irish Times Prof Jo Martin CervicalCheck debate: We can't forget that screening saves lives

5 December- Dr Nóirín Russell- RTE Morning Ireland- Discussing staff challenges in colposcopy services

5 December- Dr Nóirín Russell- Irish Examiner- 'Mass mistrust': CervicalCheck losing staff due to stress

6 December 2019- Irish Examiner Dr Ciarán O' Riain: Cancer screening is not perfect, but we need it

7 June 2018 - Irish Times Letters (Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) - Cancer Screening Programmes

26 September 2018 - Irish Times Letters (Faculty of Public Health Medicine)

21 November 2018 - RTE ‘The Big Picture’: taking a look at women’s healthcare with contribution from Prof Mary Horgan

28 November 2018 - RTE Six One News: Report from RCPI Women’s Health event

28 November 2018 - Irish Times CervicalCheck controversy helping to improve uptake of HPV vaccine

28 November 2018 - Irish Examiner Increase in uptake of HPV vaccine following CervicalCheck scandal

7 March 2019 - Image Magazine We repealed the eighth: here’s what’s next for women’s health in Ireland

9 May 2019 - RTE Sean O' Rourke Interview with Professor Conor O'Keane, Faculty of Pathology regarding screening services (response to Cross judgement)

10 May 2019 - Irish Times College [RCPI] committed to supporting these essential [screening] services

10 May 2019 - NewsTalk "Screening Services in Ireland, including the CervicalCheck programme, have saved lives,” Prof Mary Horgan

11 May 2019 - The Journal.ie Cancer screening may never provide absolute certainty (Dr Ciaran O’ Riain, Faculty of Pathology, RCPI)

Understanding Population Cancer Screening

Our free online course, developed in partnership with UCD, will help you fully understand population cancer screening so that you can communicate the benefits, limitations, processes and outcomes of population screening programmes to your patients.

Media queries

Yvonne McCahill

Press Officer, Communications Department

Tel: +353 1 8639 627 | Mobile 086 7723056

For general press enquiries or if you want to speak to a trusted medical expert, contact Yvonne in our Communications Department.