Monday 24 June 2019

Women facing six-month delay for cervical cancer test review

Taoiseach promised victims examination of CervicalCheck files would be finished in May

Health Minister Simon Harris
Health Minister Simon Harris
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

HUNDREDS of women at the centre of the cervical cancer scandal are facing an agonising wait to learn the outcome of an expert review of their smear results.

It has emerged the independent review of their cases has yet to begin and only a small portion of the women will receive letters seeking consent to examine their CervicalCheck files next week.

The news comes as Health Minister Simon Harris admitted the Government made “rash” promises to the women – some of whom have life-threatening cancer diagnoses.

The credibility of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s commitments to the victims of the controversy is now once again in the spotlight as he had promised the review would be completed by last May.

However, the Department of Health last night said it “estimates” it will be at least another six months until the review by the UK-based Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is completed.

Labour Party health spokesperson Alan Kelly accused the Taoiseach and Health Minister of “misleading the women, their families and the public”.

“The handling of this by the Taoiseach and the Government has been nothing short of shambolic especially since it’s the biggest health scandal in decades,” Mr Kelly added.

On May 2, the Taoiseach said he believed the Royal College review “can be completed by the end of May”. Two months later on July 5, Mr Harris said the review would begin “very, very shortly”.

The Taoiseach and minister yesterday refused to say whether their commitments were based on information they received from the medical organisation or if they misspoke.

A Royal College spokesperson said they were unable to give a timeline for how long the review would take.

A Department of Health spokesperson said as the review has “evolved” it has become clear that the “scope and complexity” of the examination of the cervical files will take a number of months to complete.

“It is estimated that it will take up to six months to review all the necessary information, undertake the required analysis and produce individual written reports on each case reviewed,” she said.

She added that the “necessary preparatory phase” to conduct a review of this scale is “currently well under way”.

Last Friday, 221 cancer victims were sent information packs updating them on Government action.

This included a letter informing them they would be receiving consent forms from the HSE in the coming weeks. The forms will arrive next week.

The Royal College needs consent to review files which were originally examined by CervicalCheck. Once consent is received, the HSE will begin the process of collating files which will be sent to the Royal College for examination.

The first group of 221 women is confirmed to have received incorrect smear test results.

However, the review is also open to around 1,800 women who have concerns over their test results.

It is unclear when these women will be contacted and offered a review of their cervical test results.

Senior HSE sources said contacting and locating files belonging to these women will be extremely time consuming and complicated if they all ask to have their files reviewed.

Once the Royal College receives the files, it will review the screening, cytological and clinical history case notes of each woman.

It will then compile individual reports on each case and present them to the women who asked for the review.

The Royal College will also produce an anonymised report for the minister on its findings which will include recommendations on the operation of CervicalCheck.

In a statement, Minister Harris said: “The expert review by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is an opportunity for all women in Ireland who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer, to have their own screening history independently and expertly reviewed.

"Obviously it is a matter for a woman herself to choose if she wishes to opt in or not to the process. I expect the first women to start receiving letters seeking consent next week. We have to get this process right.”

Irish Independent

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