Royal Free doctor’s cancer screening warning

Consultant Patrick Walker retires after leading the pioneering gynaecology clinic at the Royal Free Hospital for 25 years.

Consultant Patrick Walker, who is retiring after leading the pioneering colposcopy clinic at the Royal Free Hospital for 25 years, says hospitals saw an upsurge in the number of young women having smear tests after the death of TV star Jade Goody in 2009.

But within months screening numbers among women under 30 had dropped again.

Mr Walker, of Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill, said: “There is no doubt that both locally and nationally in the three months following the sad death of Jade Goody, there was an enormous increase in the number of women responding positively to smear test letters. Sadly that wasn’t maintained beyond six months.”

He continued: “It is interesting that celebrity personalities and soap operas do generate an increased uptake. But I don’t believe that frightening people into taking part in a screening programme is the correct approach.

“It is very important that these women come forward to protect their health so we can see a reduction in the number of women with cervical cancer, and the reduction of deaths.”

When Mr Walker joined the gynaecology clinic at the hospital in Pond Street, Hampstead, in 1986, the national screening for cervical cancer was just about to be launched.

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It was a hugely important programme which has been credited with helping to halve the number of women developing the disease.

Since then, Mr Walker has helped to build the work and reputation of the small colposcopy clinic, making it one of the world’s most respected centres.

Most recently, the clinic has helped to spearhead research into the cause of cervical cancer, now known to originate in Human Papillomaviruses.

In his role as president of the International Federation for Cervical Pathology and Colposcopy, Mr Walker has been at the forefront of developing cheaper and more effective methods of screening and treatment for cervical cancer in developing nations.

“The clinic has been involved in national initiatives, teaching, and making the whole programme more women centred,” he said.

“It is a close team at the Royal Free, particularly in this field.

‘‘Any achievement people think I’ve made is only because I’ve been part of a great team which has delivered all our patient care and research.”