HC Deb 23 November 1964 vol 702 cc887-90
16. Mrs. Joyce Butler

asked the Minister of Health if he will make facilities for cytological screening available for all women who desire to have a cervical test.

18. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Minister of Health if he will undertake to expand the cytology service for the investigation of carcinoma of the cervix and to encourage the training of the technicians required.

29. Mr. Maxwell

asked the Minister of Health what steps he is taking to provide nation-wide facilities for cytological screening as a preventive against cervical cancer.

30. Mr. Taverne

asked the Minister of Health whether it is his policy to secure universal availability of routine cytological examinations of the cervix for women at risk.

Mr. Robinson

Screening for cervical cancer will be extended to all women at risk as soon as the necessary laboratory facilities can be provided. The main problem is shortage of trained staff and special courses have been arranged to remedy this.

Mrs. Butler

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Since all women at risk from pre-cancer will only be discovered and treated if mass screening facilities are available in all parts of the country, will he see what he can do to speed up this increase in training facilities? Every day that passes is vital and it is possible, if the service can be speeded up, to avoid completely this scourge of women.

Mr. Robinson

I am most anxious to expedite this development. The first step is to provide laboratory services for the examination of cervical smears. The regional hospital boards have been asked to treat this development as deserving special consideration.

Mrs. Short

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware that each year 4,000 women die from cervical or uterine cancer and that all these cases are diagnosable and, therefore, curable if found in time? When considering the need to expand the pathological laboratory facilities and the training of technicians in this service, will my right hon. Friend also examine the salaries paid to these technicians? Will he also discuss with the Secretary of State for Education and Science the advisability and need to set up college-based sandwich courses for young technicians entering the "path. lab." service?

Mr. Robinson

My hon. Friend is quite right. Of course, the limitation is the shortage of pathologists and laboratory technicians trained in cytology, but special courses have been arranged at five centres and the available places there are being well taken up. The question of salaries is a matter for the Whitley Council in the first instance.

Mr. Taverne

Can my right hon. Friend indicate the cost of this service? Would not he agree that, perhaps for a cost of about £5 million a year, something like 2,500 lives of mothers at risk could be saved.

Mr. Robinson

I would not like to estimate the cost of a nationwide service, but I assure my hon. Friend that we regard the cost as not excessive in view of the lives that can be saved.

Mr. Wood

How many hospital laboratories are able to accept this work? Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to make a statement later, as more qualified personnel become available, on how the service will be developed?

Mr. Robinson

Our idea is that a start should be made by offering screening to women of 35 and over at five-yearly intervals. The hospital boards have been advised to plan on this basis. I cannot say exactly how many hospitals are operating the service. I think that the number is very large, however, although few of them are able to meet all the demands made upon them.

Mr. Fisher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, even where trained personnel are available, in many cases the hospital boards are not fully employing them? His Department has only sent out a recommendation on this subject to the boards. In view of the necessity of the service in saving women's lives, will the right hon. Gentleman send a directive to the boards to take the subject more seriously?

Mr. Robinson

I am certainly not aware that any hospitals are dragging their feet. If the hon. Gentleman has any information that a hospital is doing so I should be glad if he would send it to me.

Dr. Summerskill

Will my right hon. Friend give consideration to the employment on a part-time basis of married women doctors for work in this connection, since large numbers of them are seeking part-time employment but find it difficult to get?

Mr. Robinson

Yes. That is a promising suggestion and I will give it urgent attention.