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Women who undergo cervical screening must now get slides from HSE

Change will help to 'streamline the process', it is claimed


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Women who undergo cervical screening with CervicalCheck will now have to go the HSE to get access to their test slides, it emerged yesterday.

The HSE said the new system would streamline the process of handing over the slides in cases where women or their bereaved families were seeking to have the slides re-examined.

Previously, women who wanted their slides had to contact the laboratory where the screening took place.

The slides are needed by women who have developed cervical cancer, or the relatives of those who died, to get independent experts to do a re-examination and determine why abnormalities were not picked up.

A HSE spokeswoman said yesterday that it had developed a new protocol for the release of cervical screening slides for women screened under the CervicalCheck programme and who had received a cervical cancer diagnosis.

She said: "The purpose of this protocol is to ensure the integrity of the slide can be traced when they leave their current location.

"As part of this process, the HSE facilitates the release of slides by laboratories, including the provision of consent by women or their representatives to the laboratory in question.

"This is to ensure a streamlined process and that slides are released in an efficient and timely manner to women, or their families or legal representatives."

Some 221 women went on to develop cervical cancer after being given a false all-clear from their smear test.

Many are now taking legal cases but need access to their slide to allow for their own expert to look at them and give an opinion on whether the misreading could have been avoided or whether it was due to the limitations of science.

The HSE said that women who consent to the new protocol do not automatically consent to take part in the wider review of screening which is due to get under way.

This is despite the protocol saying that the slides may be given to the review.

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The expert panel review of cervical screening by the Royal College of Obstetricians will involve a review of hundreds of original slides from women whose tests were read in laboratories in the US and Ireland.

It will take at least six months to complete and the objective is to produce a report on standards of screening at the laboratories.

This will mean, however, that slides will be unavailable to women for that length of time, delaying legal cases they may be taking.

The HSE said yesterday the review was a separate and independent process. "The HSE is writing to women and to next-of-kin invited to take part in this review to seek their consent," the spokeswoman added.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health yesterday did not rule out giving health officials the right to reply to any allegations made in the Scally report, which will look at various aspects of the screening scandal and is due in the coming weeks.

This would mean officials and CervicalCheck, the HSE and the Department of Health would be given time to respond, delaying its publication.

Solicitor Caoimhe Haughey, who represents a number of women caught up in the scandal, said: "It is unfortunate the review will take until early next year to report.

"It appears it will not be able to tell individual women if there was a breach of duty of standard of care in the reading of individual slides."

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