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Pattern of cervical cancer must not be ignored

24 October 2000 Media Statement

Pattern of cervical cancer must not be ignored

Alliance health spokesperson Phillida Bunkle is giving her support to another Northland woman who had four of her cervical smear slides misread and questionable care from her gynaecologist Graham Parry.

The woman, known as Sharon, has just been released from National Women's Hospital after yet another round of treatment for an invasive cancer that continues to ravage her body. She went public yesterday with her case because she wanted the public to know that Colleen Poutsma's case was not isolated.

Sharon had four misread slides – three by a Northland laboratory and one by an Auckland lab. Her slides from 1992 and 1994 – originally read as normal – have been re-read as showing high-grade abnormalities. Her treatment did not start until 1995.

"In light of Sharon sharing her story with the public, I too want to see that she and other women in similar situations, have an opportunity to ask questions about the level of care the health system has given them," Phillida Bunkle said.

"I have been given absolute assurance by the Health Minister that the review of issues in Northland will be thorough and comprehensive. It will ensure all those women who want to, will be heard – and in public if they wish - and that the review would not be limited to any one practitioner, and include Northland Health, specialists, GPs and the laboratories. We must find out how many women are involved to determine the extent of the problem.

"Sharon was clearly let down by the medical system. I think there have to be questions about the safety of the practice at every level that she encountered."

Sharon, who personally described her ordeal to the Alliance MP, had four misread smears, her symptoms of cervical cancer were misdiagnosed by her GP, and ignored by her gynaecologist, Graham Parry, who as in Colleen Poutsma's case, did not examine her. Sharon's symptoms included severe, abnormal bleeding, lower back pain and painful periods.

"The tragedy is that while Sharon is seeking redress from what she rightly sees as a medical system that failed her abysmally, earlier detection of her problems might have prevented the very problems in Colleen Poutsma's case. She was not diagnosed until 1997," Phillida Bunkle said.
"Similarly another woman, Stephanie, had four smears read as clear – three in Northland and one in Auckland - when she in actual fact she had invasive cancer. She wasn't diagnosed until 1991 and even went public back then. Again, earlier action on her case might have prevented Sharon's suffering now.

"Bleeding when the cervix is touched is the most serious symptom of invasive cancer. All three women reported these symptoms to their doctors. I urge any woman with this symptom to have another smear. Northland smears are now read at National Women's Hospital or Christchurch.

"Northland has the highest incidence of invasive cervical cancer in the country. The ghosts of Gisborne are evident here. It's now crucial that we investigate how the screening programme, GPs, hospitals, and other medical services contributed to problems. It's also important to do this in conjunction with the study being conducted by Dr David Skegg through the Gisborne Inquiry."


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