Bosses fear doctors won't do breast screening due to fears over litigation

Damien McCallion wrote a briefing for the new HSE boss. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Cormac McQuinn

There is a "significant risk" that doctors won't work in Ireland's breast cancer screening service due to fears over being sued for "false negative" results.

The warning comes in a briefing prepared for new HSE boss Paul Reid, which also outlines how the National Screening Service is managing "critical issues" arising from the CervicalCheck crisis.

The HSE's national director for the screening service, Damien McCallion, outlined the main areas of responsibility - including BreastCheck, the National Bowel Screening Programme, and CervicalCheck.

The briefing document contains a section on legal issues the National Screening Service is dealing with. So-called "false negatives" - where a negative test result turns out to have abnormalities on a later review - are said to be "an inherent part of breast screening".

The briefing says: "BreastCheck has seen an increase in requests for individual cancer patient reviews and consequently legal requests.

"The clinicians involved are concerned at the lack of understanding on breast screening and 'false negatives' and there is a significant risk that clinicians will opt not to work in breast-screening going forward due to the litigation risks."

Elsewhere in the document, the aim of the BreastCheck service is summarised as "to provide an effective screening service to the highest possible quality, so that the maximum number of breast cancers can be detected at the earliest possible stage".

Separately, the briefing says that "the current critical issues being managed by the National Screening Service arise from the crisis in CervicalCheck in April 2018".

"Following a court settlement with a cervical cancer patient, it became apparent that a large number of women included in a CervicalCheck audit had not had their audit results disclosed to them as intended," it adds.

The scandal was first revealed due to a legal action taken by Limerick mum-of-two Vicky Phelan.

The briefing for Mr Reid details a series of issues being "managed and supported".

Among the items listed are supports for women and their families, including the group of more than 220 affected by the audit.

Also mentioned is the independent review of test slides for women diagnosed with cervical cancer being carried out by the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. What's described as "a very sensitive disclosure process", where the women will be told of the results of the review, is to be undertaken around August this year.

Mr McCallion's report also outlines how Health Minister Simon Harris announced a scheme to enable women to take their legal cases relating to cervical screening through a confidential screening process rather than to court.

Legislation was being drafted to allow this to happen by the end of the year.