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Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I propose to put together the Questions on motions 5 and 6.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),


Question agreed to.



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Ongar Fire Station

7.27 pm

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): I wish to present a petition in the name of constituents who are concerned about the possible removal of a full-time fire station at Ongar and its replacement with a part-time fire station. My constituents are particularly concerned because Ongar fire ground is the largest in Essex, and they are concerned about the level of coverage.

Some 5,506 constituents, covering all age groups, have signed the petition. I was particularly impressed by the collection organised by the pupils of Chipping Ongar primary school.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

Council Tax

7.29 pm

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I present a petition signed by 559 of my constituents who are concerned about the unfairness of council tax for people on low or fixed incomes.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

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11 Feb 2004 : Column 1539

Cervical Screening

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Margaret Moran.]

7.30 pm

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): Susan Van Neck was born on 10 January 1967. She married in 1991, and became Mrs. Susan Spratt. She died of cervical cancer in September 1999, at the age of 32. She had three smear tests during her life, which were examined in the laboratories of two different hospitals. As events have proved, two of those tests were inaccurate. They did not detect the first signs of cancer that would have made it possible to treat her fully and save her life.

As we all know, every woman in the United Kingdom between the ages of 25 and 64 is eligible for a free cervical smear test every three to five years. In 1988, Sue's first test gave her the all-clear, but recommended a further test a year later. The outcome of her second smear test in 1989, examined by the cytology laboratory at Derriford hospital in Plymouth was an all-clear, suggesting that no further test was necessary for five years. In 1993, the test result conducted by the cytology laboratory at the Taunton and Somerset hospital was also an all-clear and suggested no retest for five years.

Sadly, in 1995, just two years later, Sue was admitted to the accident and emergency department at Yeovil hospital with evidence of advanced cervical cancer. She received intensive treatment, which seemed to work for a while, but in April 1998 she was found to have a recurrence of the tumour. This time, she failed to respond to chemotherapy and after a brave struggle she died on 28 September 1999.

Since then, the NHS has admitted that it had been negligent and compensation has been paid to Sue's husband. The debate tonight is not about compensation, blame or looking backwards: it is about looking forwards. As part of the contact with the NHS following Sue's death, an eminent medical expert, Professor Dulcie Coleman, was invited to re-examine the original smear tests. She produced a report showing that, among other things, the 1989 smear test that pronounced Sue all clear should have found the early signs of cervical cancer and referred her for further examination by a specialist and treatment. The professor also found that the 1993 test, which again pronounced Sue to be all clear, should have found the traces of cervical cancer that were present and should have sent her for further examination and treatment.

Professor Coleman concludes her report with these words:

Sadly, that was not to be, and Sue became one of the thousand or so women who die from cervical cancer every year in the United Kingdom.

Before Sue died, Mrs. Van Neck promised her daughter that she would do all she could to improve

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cancer screening for Sue's sister and nieces and for all women, so that fewer families would have to suffer the trauma and tragedy of a life so full of vitality and promise being cut short. Since then, Mrs. Van Neck and her husband have been very active, delivering on that promise. They have been in contact with the hospitals in Taunton and Plymouth to chase up improvements in the system. In June 2001, they learned that clinical trials of a new type of cervical cancer screening—liquid-based cytology—were being carried out at a number of hospitals across the country. They made contact with each to set out their tragic family experience and to urge rapid progress.

As the House will know, until recently all smear tests were conducted by the traditional Pap method. Unfortunately, over the years, it has been found that about one in 10 smear tests using that method have to be repeated, because the person checking the test at the laboratory cannot see whether pre-cancerous cells are present. The errors and anxiety that may arise are amply demonstrated by the Van Necks' experience and by several similar cases.

The Van Neck family were delighted when, in October 2003, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, as a result of the trials, recommended the use of liquid-based cytology throughout the NHS. As the Minister will know well, liquid-based cytology is a new way of collecting and preparing cell samples from a woman's cervix. Samples are collected using a brush-like device, rather than a spatula. The head of the brush is rinsed or broken off into a container of preservation fluid that protects the cervical cells. The evidence of the trials was that liquid-based cytology results in samples that are of better quality and easier to read, thus reducing the number of tests that need to be repeated.

Obviously, the introduction of liquid-based cytology would offer a much improved service for all women and would be a positive step forward, so Mr. and Mrs. Van Neck decided to do all in their power to ensure its early introduction. They first visited me at my constituency surgery in November 2003 to tell me of their tragic experience and of their determination to see a better smear test system introduced in this country. I found their story deeply moving and their determination to redeem the promise that they had given their daughter very impressive. I welcome their presence, with their other daughter Debbie, in the House this evening.

Following that meeting, I tabled a written question on 4 December, which was answered by the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson), on 10 December. She set out the welcome news that the Government had decided that liquid-based cytology would be rolled out nationally across the national health service, for everybody. The reply also stated:

I have also written to the South West Peninsula strategic health authority, and its chair, Judy Leverton, replied that the authority hoped to introduce the new

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system in the next financial year, depending on a number of factors, especially on whether all the necessary staff could be trained in the use of the new procedures.

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