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One woman a month developing cancer

One woman a month developing cancer

Jim Anderton MP Tue Sep 21 1999

Jim Anderton
MPOne woman a month is likely to develop invasive cancer because of misread slides in the Gisborne area and the slow pace of the response to the disaster, Alliance health spokesperson Phillida Bunkle says.

While welcoming the fact that the Minister of Health has finally responded to Alliance calls for a full public inquiry, she wants the inquiry broadened to investigate the reasons that no action was taken when knowledge of the misread slides was widespread in the medical establishment.

The Health Funding Authority has today admitted that only 28 out of 157 abnormal smears were correctly identified by Gisborne pathologist Dr Michael Bottrill. The existence of widespread problems with the slides in Gisborne was made public in Parliament in April by Phillida Bunkle. Health authorities had known of the problem since 1996, but failed to act even after a Medical Council guilty verdict and a court case involving one of the women, until Ms Bunkle exposed the issue.

'This is the biggest medical disaster in New Zealand's history. If 120 women out of 5000 have had their slides misread, then it's likely that 600 will be found to have been misread by the time the full 25,000 slides have been examined. On the HFA's own figures, 2% of those women each year will develop invasive cancer, which amounts to 12 a year, or one woman every month.

'It has taken years to brerak through the denial that there was a problem. Action is now urgent. The Health Funding Authority is still going to take until December to re-read the misread slides, and 50% of the women whose slides were misread have still not been identified, yet they are developing invasive cancer at a rate of one a month. More effort needs to go into recalling the women and the Government should accept liability and offer immediate financial support for the women without dragging them through court again.

'The government had no choice other than to hold the inquiry that the Alliance has been pushing for since April. However the key issue in the inquiry has to be this: Why were there delays in checking all smears done at the laboratory once there was evidence of mistakes in 1996?

'When the extent of the Gisborne disaster was first publicly known, the pathologists were still claiming publicly that the misread slides were within acceptable failure rates.

Phillida Bunkle said the announcement of the inquiry today vindicated the use of parliamentary privilege

'If it had not been for the freedom of MPs to speak out in parliament, it is possible that the extent of the Gisborne disaster would never have been made public.'

ENDS

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