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Terry Fields MP

End the chaos of cancer screening

(8 July 1987)

From Militant, No. 860, 7 August 1987, p. 7.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“ONE OF my constituents was diagnosed as suffering from cervical cancer in January. In February it was confirmed, but this woman must wait until December before she can start to receive initial treatment to combat that potentially killer disease.” – Terry Fields in Parliament on 8 July.

“President Reagan has had a third recurrence of skin cancer on his nose and will go into hospital tomorrow to have more tissue removed.” The Independent, 31 July.

Speaking in Parliament on 8 July, Terry Fields, MP for Liverpool Broadgreen, demanded that the inquiry by Liverpool Regional Health Authority into the recall of 487 women for cervical smear testing be made public, and a system of recall screening be established nationally.

“Cervical cancer is a cancer of the neck of the womb, or the uterine cervix. It is one of the most common causes of the premature death of women. Over 2,000 women die unnecessarily of cervical cancer every year. Those deaths are preventable, provided adequate screening techniques are used and women receive appropriate treatment ... it is incorrect to assume that only older women are at risk. A woman becomes at risk when she begins sexual intercourse, which varies widely from person to person.

Therefore, there should be no minimum age limit for women requesting a first smear, and publicity should be given to the need for screening from at least the age of 20.


In 1987 the Liverpool area health authority revealed that, during the 21 months between March ’83 and December ’85 nearly 800 cervical smear test slides had been passed as ‘normal’ when in fact abnormalities were present which required further investigation. The health authority decided that 487 should be recalled.

One hundred of those people have since received, or are receiving, treatment and some have had hysterectomies. One can imagine the distress and worry if one’s wife, daughter or grandchildren, or if my wife, had that problem. Tragically, there have been reports of at least one death, if not more, within the Liverpool area.

.. The error which puts hundreds of Liverpool women at risk, must be thoroughly investigated and the findings acted upon by providing screening services throughout the country. The internal review conducted by the Liverpool health authority is totally inadequate for that purpose ... The two most vital things that are required... are a public inquiry and a national quality control scheme to ... ensure that monitoring of the results is carried out...

On 3 July the Minister reported that 75 health authorities were now computerised... 75 out of 191, which is equal to 39 per cent of all area health authorities. That means that the other 61 per cent are not computerised.

The Minister also reported that 19 of those 75 health authorities had call and recall systems. That means that nine per cent of the 191 authorities are attempting to deal with the problem of cervical cancer.

This is an exposition of scandalous complacency by a woman Minister dealing with a problem that affects the nation’s women... I am making ten demands on behalf of the women’s council, the community health authorities in the Liverpool area and Liverpool women:

  1. A national, integrated, NHS-based call and recall system.
  2. Mobile screening units to visit estates and shopping centres.
  3. Health authorities to seek out women at high risk, not depend on women volunteering themselves.
  4. Screening facilities available at the workplace, or time off to visit a clinic.
  5. Well Woman clinics operating throughout the country.
  6. Women doctors available wherever possible to carry out the tests.
  7. Follow-up tests to be done with sensitivity, explaining if it is due only to a technical problem.
  8. Use of the most up-to-date equipment available.
  9. Counselling for women when cancer is detected.
  10. Oppose the privatisation of NHS services and support the public ownership of supplies to the NHS.”

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Last updated: 20 May 2020