Wednesday 18 September 2019

Explainer: 11 days on ... what happens next for women concerned about cervical cancer scandal?

  • 209 women now affected by scandal
  • 13 women have still not been contacted
  • More than 10,000 calls made to helpline
  • Vicky Phelan says she wants action now
Emma Ní Mhathúna was diagnosed with second stage cervical cancer in 2016
Emma Ní Mhathúna was diagnosed with second stage cervical cancer in 2016
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

It's been 11 days since the CervicalCheck scandal and many vital questions still remain. Our Health Correspondent Eilish O'Regan answers your questions.

We are still in the middle of the CervicalCheck scandal. Does it really merit that title?

Yes, it has snowballed from revelations that 15 women who developed cervical cancer after an incorrect smear test result had an internal CervicalCheck report carried out on them. It confirmed the test mistake but the report was kept secret from them for years. Vicky Phelan, who did not get her report for three years, lifted the lid. We now know 209 women who suffered cervical cancer after a false negative were also the subject of these reports. But just 46 were informed until this week – 17 of the women are dead.

CervicalCheck says the reports were eventually sent to their doctors but they were told to use their judgment about informing the patient. Why?

We still don’t know for sure. Some blamed a “doctor-knows-best” attitude. Others claim it was a reluctance to admit a mistake was made.

It has damaged trust in CervicalCheck. Is that fair?

Failure to disclose information to the patient about them being the victim of a faulty test result is a clear breach of basic care rules. The screening service is now in a mess of its own making.

How safe is it for women who avail of its free smear tests service?

Senior doctors have stressed that there is no evidence CervicalCheck delivers a higher than normal rate of wrong test results.

Around one in every 100 women will get a false negative because the screening is not infallible.

Since CervicalCheck started in 2008 the incidence of the cancer has fallen. The key message to women is to continue to be screened.

Thousands of women are looking for re-tests all the same. What is the advice to them?

Their anxiety is understandable and any women who wants a re-test will get one free. There is nothing wrong with reassurance for peace of mind.

What about the use of a laboratory in the United States to do half the tests?

We heard during the week that the outsourcing of tests, first to Quest Diagnostics in Texas, was objected by some doctors. The testing is now partly done in New Jersey. But since then the HSE has insisted the labs in use now are quality assured and each slide is read twice.

Will any more women who developed cancer in the last decade be told a secret report was carried out on them?

Various investigations are to get under way so who knows what may come to light.

CervicalCheck only knew of around 1,482 women who had the cancer. But another 1,500 were overlooked.

Yes. CervicalCheck relied on returns from doctors.

But the National Cancer Registry had around 1,500 women logged as being diagnosed with the cancer in that time. That data is now being given to CervicalCheck to see if any of these additional women had faulty smear tests in the screening service.

Who is overseeing CervicalCheck now?

HSE director Damian McCallion has been installed.

So is CervicalCheck safe now?

We need the findings of a full inquiry looking at all this saga before giving it a complete clean bill of health.

But as of now there is no reason why women should not continue to avail of tests which can save their lives.

Irish Independent

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