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Cancer scandal: HIQA investigation to look at quality assurance and communication with patients

  • HIQA to investigate CervicalCheck programme
  • Quality assurance and communications with patients to be looked at
  • 'Swift action' to follow 'courageous service' of Vicky Phelan, pledges minister
  • Vicky Phelan 'could never have imagined magnitude of problem'
  • New legislation to be tabled mandating "open disclosure"


Vicky Phelan of Annacotty, Co Limerick  Photo: Courtpix

Vicky Phelan of Annacotty, Co Limerick Photo: Courtpix

Vicky Phelan of Annacotty, Co Limerick Photo: Courtpix

HIQA are to investigate the CervicalCheck scandal Minister for Health Simon Harris has announced this evening.

The body will have full summoning powers in relation to witnesses and paperwork.

The investigation will place a particular focus on the quality assurance systems, clinical audit processes and the communications with patients, according to the minister.

Ireland's programme will be benchmarked against international counterparts and any implications for other cancer screening programmes will also be identified.

Following an audit over the weekend the HSE confirmed today that 208 women were affected by the controversy and 162 of those women had not been informed that their earlier tests were reviewed, or of the outcome of that review.

Efforts are underway to contact those affected, however 17 women involved have since died.

An International Clinical Expert Panel to provide the women affected with an individual clinical review. A liaison nurse will  also work with the group to ensure all necessary supports are made available to those affected.

Mr Harris also commended Vicky Phelan - whose recent challenge in the High Court shone the national spotlight on the programme and a failure to inform women of the potential for a missed diagnosis following a review.


Vicky Phelan and family

Vicky Phelan and family

Vicky Phelan and family

“Vicky Phelan has done a huge and courageous service to this country in highlighting a number of major weaknesses in relation to how people experience our health service," Mr Harris said. 

"I am determined that swift action will follow to address these weaknesses."

Legislation is also due to be brought forward which would make it mandatory for doctors and medical professionals to engage in "open disclosure" - ensuring patients are notified of serious events relating to their care.

Mr Harris said he hopes these steps "will ensure the integrity of the cervical screening programme at the same time as providing learning for all cancer screening programmes".

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Speaking earlier today Ms Phelan said the news that 17 of the affected women have died - with only two of them being made aware of the issues with their smear tests - had left her very upset.

"I could be another one of those women and if I had died I would be on that list. Thankfully I didn't and I'm here to tell the tale. By God am I going to take these guys on, I think it's disgraceful.

"I don't think anyone could have imagined the magnitude of this," she added.

Ms Phelan said that the revelations by Dr Gibbons - who revealed he warned the then CEO of the National Cancer Screening Service Tony O'Brien that the outsourcing of cervical smear tests to the US would lead to missed cases or misdiagnoses - rendered an apology by Mr O'Brien extended to her last week as "null and void".

Dr Gibbons said he predicted the outsourcing would become a problem in approximately 10-15 years time.

Ms Phelan said today the most critical questions outstanding for her now, as she turns her focus to fighting the disease, is "who knew what and when?".

Separately today Taoiseach Leo Varadakar pledged an inquiry into the issues related to CervicalCheck, saying that he was "very angry" at what had occurred.

CervicalCheck can be contacted on 1800 454555.

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