Tuesday 21 May 2019

CervicalCheck's light-touch regulation and 'flawed' lookback to come under scrutiny

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Strange as it may sound, some of the 221 women at the centre of the CervicalCheck scandal regard themselves as the lucky ones.

The context for their comment is the knowledge that at least they have reached the first step of getting audits of their tests telling them they got a wrong result before going on to develop cancer.

They are relieved that they are no longer agonising in the dark - unlike other women who were also diagnosed with the disease and are still wondering why.

Dr Gabriel Scally, who investigated CervicalCheck, was clear yesterday that more women who developed cervical cancer will also discover their test results should have led to earlier investigation or treatment.

CervicalCheck's exclusion criteria of women with a cancer diagnosis of less than 18 months does not make sense, he said. These women will have to rely on the review carried out by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and this will take months yet.

The extent of its findings on the level of quality assurance at the labs used by CervicalCheck will also depend on how many women consent to the use of their slides in the review.

It continues to be a concern that CervicalCheck has entirely suspended auditing the results of women who it has been notified have cancer.

New criteria is to be drawn up to decide on selection but this is going to take time.

There was also continued evidence of light-touch regulation of the labs.

Dr Scally and UK cervical screening expert Dr Karin Denton were giving an update to the Oireachtas Health Committee.

There was just one meeting of CervicalCheck's medical advisory committee in 10 years. When it sent its own expert to visit a Texas lab no mention was made it has sent tests from Irish women to labs in Las Vegas and Hawaii.

The other serious issue raised at the committee is the ongoing high volume of tests sent by CervicalCheck to other labs. Dr Denton said this is unsustainable and leading to serious delays in returning results to women.

The surge is due to the numbers of women availing of the free tests outside their normal schedule. But this has the effect of pushing out delays for other women who are due scheduled screening. "It has reached a critical point," she said. The HSE said it is examining options with its contracted labs.

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