Wednesday 20 February 2019

Smear tests offered in bid to relieve anxiety need to be repeated

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dail that some checks arranged after the cervical cancer screening scandal have expired due to a backlog.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dail that some women who underwent free smear tests since the cervical cancer scandal emerged have been informed that the tests will have to be repeated (Tom Honan/PA Wire)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dail that some women who underwent free smear tests since the cervical cancer scandal emerged have been informed that the tests will have to be repeated (Tom Honan/PA Wire)

By Michelle Devane, Press Association  

The Taoiseach has said a number of smear tests conducted to allay fears over the cervical cancer screening scandal will have to be repeated.

Leo Varadkar said he was told by Health Minister Simon Harris a few weeks ago that a backlog was creating problems and that as a result, some tests have expired and would have to be repeated.

“I understand that… there are some tests that need to be repeated and those women, those patients, will be informed individually by letter,” Mr Varadkar said.

“I think some have been already but I don’t know for sure.”

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The case of Vicky Phelan triggered the cervical smear test controversy (Brian Lawless/PA)

It is not yet known how many women are affected.

The Government offered additional free smear tests through the CervicalCheck programme between May and December last year after it emerged 221 women and families were not told about misreported smear tests.

More than 20 of the women affected have since died.

During Leaders’ Questions in the Dail, opposition leader Micheal Martin accused Mr Harris of “withholding information” about developments within the screening programme.

Mr Martin claimed the future of the CervicalCheck programme is in “jeopardy” because of the decision by the minister to offer additional free smear tests to any woman who was concerned following the controversy.

He said the decision had resulted in enormous delays which rendered a significant number of tests “null and void” and impacted the “quality and efficacy” of the whole programme.

Mr Martin said: “The minister’s decision was against expert advice that warned him repeatedly that this would damage the whole programme.

“It’s my understanding and it is my information that the programme is in jeopardy because of all of this.”

But Mr Varadkar said the decision had been made “in good faith” in May to allay any “anxieties” women may have had about the accuracy of previous results.

Since then, he said there had been a “significant increase” in the number of women attending for smears and that demand had put increased pressure on laboratory capacity.

But he added that now free tests have ended, the Government expects the backlog to reduce over the next couple of weeks.

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Micheal Martin hit out at Health Minister Simon Harris over the matter (PA)

He said Mr Harris should come before the Dail to give a comprehensive statement on the matter.

Mr Martin also raised the recent death of Orla Church, who became the 21st woman to die in relation to the smear test scandal.

Mr Varadkar paid condolences to the family and friends of the cervical cancer campaigner and praised the contribution she made to the health service by helping to update its guidelines for GPs and others relating to cervical screening.

The 54-year old, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2015, had previously received two clear test results in 2011 and 2014 after being screened with CervicalCheck.

The controversy was brought to light by the case of Vicky Phelan, who took legal action early last year.

The mother-of-two, from Co Limerick, settled a High Court action for 2.5 million euro after being incorrectly told in 2011 that her smear test had given a negative result for cancer.

While screening tests are not 100% accurate, the fact the majority of the impacted patients were not told of the outcome of their tests prompted a wave of public anger.

Press Association

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