Sunday 16 June 2019

CervicalCheck crisis toll set to grow as 46 more cases examined

Health Minister confirms commission of investigation

Head of the State Claims Agency Ciaran Breen said scandal-hit CervicalCheck was facing a surge in legal actions. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Head of the State Claims Agency Ciaran Breen said scandal-hit CervicalCheck was facing a surge in legal actions. Picture: Steve Humphreys

Eilish O'Regan and Laura Larkin

The tragic toll of women who developed cervical cancer after receiving a wrong smear test result is set to rise again, after it emerged that an audit of 46 more cases notified to CervicalCheck is under way.

Now the Health Minister says he wants to establish an independent commission of inquiry to examine the controversy in September.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar suggested the CervicalCheck scandal could widen to affect another 100 women or more.

"I don't want to speculate on that number yet but it will obviously be more than zero but probably less than 100," he said.

Speaking in Madrid, Mr Varadkar referred to the additional cases of cervical cancer, spanning the last decade, that have been notified to CervicalCheck in recent weeks.

In the Dáil, Health Minister Simon Harris said he wanted to be "very clear" there would be a commission of inquiry within months.

Health officials yesterday faced another angry round of questions in the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

It prompted Labour TD Alan Kelly to accuse some of the officials of "multiple arse-covering".

HSE director Damian McCallion said 46 audits involving look-backs of women who developed cervical cancer after an incorrect smear test were under way. Twelve are nearing completion. "As those audits are concluded, women will be contacted," he said.

Separate to the current audit of 46 women, an examination of 1,600 cervical cancer cases is being carried out. These were notified to CervicalCheck by the National Cancer Registry only in recent weeks.

It is believed that around 1,000 of these women were not screened and did not have CervicalCheck smear tests.

The remainder will have their history examined by outside experts, to determine if they went through CervicalCheck and if they were the victim of smear test mistakes.

The developments follow the ongoing fallout from the High Court case of Limerick mother-of-two Vicky Phelan, which lifted the lid on the misdiagnosis of other women. It led to revelations that 209 women who were subject to a look-back audit were found to have developed cancer after their test was wrongly read.

Mr McCallion said yesterday that a review of all the remaining cases of women who developed cervical cancer in the last decade was "close to commencement" by experts from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

CervicalCheck is facing a surge in legal actions, according to head of the State Claims Agency Ciaran Breen.

There are 30 cases at various stages of litigation including two "potential" legal claims against CervicalCheck, but this number has since soared. All the cases are against US labs or US-controlled labs. There are five cases for alleged misdiagnosis of breast cancer and 12 against Bowelscreen.

Referring to cases brought by women with cervical cancer, Mr Breen said: "We are short-circuiting cases and immediately admitting breach of duty for non-disclosure of the audits."

Meanwhile, acting HSE chief John Connaghan said he had met with Dr Gabriel Scally, who is conducting a scoping inquiry into the scandal.

Dr Scally complained about receiving 4,000 documents in the last week, many of which are difficult to read and unsearchable on a computer.

Mr Connaghan blamed "technical issues" for the poor format and pledged to work to overcome the problems.

Asked about delays in giving women their personal files, the HSE said the aim was to provide the documents to them within around 30 days of request.

Mr Connaghan confirmed the HSE was now ready to hand over the contracts relating to laboratories in the US used by CervicalCheck. This had been delayed to get legal clearance.

Irish Independent

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