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Smear test scandal: 206 women develop cancer after all-clear


Terminally ill Vicky Phelan;

Terminally ill Vicky Phelan;


Terminally ill Vicky Phelan;

MORE than 200 women developed cervical cancer after having a misdiagnosed smear in the free national screening programme, it emerged last night.

The HSE confirmed last night 206 women developed the illness after having a misdiagnosed smear and should have had further medical investigations.

The smear test failed to pick up abnormal cells which need to be removed before they become cancerous. It’s understood that if these women had been referred onwards, the cancer could have been prevented or treated earlier.

After reviewing the tests, it was found 173 women should have been referred to colposcopy – a more invasive diagnostic procedure – sooner, a representative for the HSE said. Another 33 women should have been referred for a repeat smear earlier.

The women went on to be diagnosed with cancer, according to CervicalCheck.

It emerged that 1,482 cases of cancer were notified to CervicalCheck since it started in 2008.

In the majority of these cases there has been no requirement for further review.

In 442 cases, review was warranted.

The women’s doctors were informed of the review findings and requested to communicate directly with their patients as they considered clinically appropriate, said a spokeswoman.

“These communications related to events prior to the diagnosis and would have had no impact on the care management and treatment of the women after they were diagnosed.”

The women’s consultants are now being written to by the national screening service to alert them to an internal investigation into their cases.

Health Minister Simon Harris and HSE chief Tony O Brien decided yesterday to have CervicalCheck reviewed by senior staff in another cervical screening programme from another jurisdiction.

The new figures emerged two days after mother-of-two Vicky Phelan, who has terminal cervical cancer, was awarded €2.5m in the High Court. Ms Phelan had a false negative smear test result in 2011 but developed symptoms in 2014 and was diagnosed with cancer.

There is outcry over revelations that Ms Phelan was not informed that CervicalCheck carried out an internal review of her care in 2014.

She was one of 15 women whose cases were looked at by the screening service in 2014 but she did not learn about the report until late last year.

The HSE has now confirmed it is “writing to doctors who were originally requested to contact their patients who had been given the all-clear but developed cancer that a review of their case was carried out. We are seeking to ensure that this will take place in an expedient manner,” a spokeswoman said.

Information on these internal reports is now given to treating doctors “in a matter of months” but not all women may want to be informed, CervicalCheck claimed. It has a notice on its website telling women an internal review may be conducted if they develop cancer.

A circular from CervicalCheck to doctors treating cancer patients in 2016 suggested if women had died they could “simply ensure the result is recorded”. Ms Phelan, who was left in the dark about her review, accused CervicalCheck of “an appalling breach of trust”.

Since it started providing free smear tests to women in 2008, some three million screenings have been carried out.

Ms Phelan’s original 2011 test was carried out by Clinical Pathology Laboratories in Austin, Texas. CervicalCheck is still outsourcing some tests to the US.

“CervicalCheck contracts three principal laboratories to process screenings – Quest Diagnostics Inc, Teterboro, New Jersey, USA; MedLab Pathology Ltd, Dublin; and Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital, Dublin.”

Irish Independent