Public health services in Leicestershire are facing another week in the spotlight following publication of the findings of an audit of deaths from cervical cancer.

The results showed that 14 women had died of cervical cancer over a seven-year period, having previously been given the all-clear. They were released in the same week that public health officials confirmed 62 cases of TB in a local sixth-form college, following mass screening programmes in local schools.

Public health officials in Leicestershire were already under pressure over the finding of a cluster of five deaths from variantCreutzfeldt Jakob disease within a 5km radius.An inquiry published in March found a strong link with local butchery practices.

Last Thursday Leicstershire health authority published findings of an audit of cervical cancer deaths which revealed discrepancies in 122 women's diagnoses.

In the bank holiday weekend which followed, NHS Direct in the East Midlands received 150 calls on the subject and University of Leicester Hospitals trust was contacted by 76 patients or relatives.

Helen Thompson, senior manager of NHS Direct in the East Midlands, said the service had been kept 'very busy' with calls about TB and cervical screening:

'Our phone number was on letters that went out to schools about TB and we had about 200 calls in the two days after the cervical cancer report came out.

'We have been reassuring women that it is worthwhile [testing] because of the numbers of deaths it prevents.'

The HA audited all cervical cancer diagnosed in women between January 1993 and August 2000 as part of work to inform clinical governance and national service framework development.

The audit involved a review of the smears of 403 women diagnosed with cervical cancer during this period. Where smear slides were available at the Leicester Royal Infirmary laboratory, these were re-read by a consultant cytopathologist who found discrepancies in 122 women's slides.

Of these, 14 women had died, and a further 64 needed hysterectomies or other surgery, because signs of cancer were not detected through routine testing.

The HA wrote to all 122 women or their relatives offering an early appointment with a consultant gynaecologist to discuss the clinical details or be offered counselling, support and legal advice.

Dr Rashmi Shukla, HA screening co-ordinator, said that following the audit, the HA had introduced new local protocols so that patients' screening history and smear slides would be reviewed again when a woman was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

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