Wednesday 20 November 2019

Letters from women caught up in cancer scandal sent to Department of Agriculture in 'bizarre' error

  • The women were written to as part of a major review of cervical cancer screening
  • Due to an administrative error the incorrect return address appeared on the envelope sent to 150 women
  • Blunder raises concerns over the confidentiality of the women involved
Stephen Teap and Vicky Phelan have both fought a public battle to get better outcomes for women suffering from cancer diagnoses. Picture: PA
Stephen Teap and Vicky Phelan have both fought a public battle to get better outcomes for women suffering from cancer diagnoses. Picture: PA
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Letters from women caught up in the cancer screening controversy ended up being sent to the Department of Agriculture instead of the HSE following a bizarre administrative error.

The women involved were among 1,500 written to as part of a major review of cervical cancer screening being conducted by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in the wake of the CervicalCheck scandal.

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Lorraine O'Sullivan/PA
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Lorraine O'Sullivan/PA

Their consent was sought to include their cases in the review.

However, due to an administrative error, being blamed on a distribution company contracted by the HSE, the incorrect return address, that of the Department of Agriculture, appeared on the envelope sent to 150 women.

A HSE source said that while the mistake was spotted by most of the women, a number sent their response to the Department of Agriculture rather than to the HSE. This occurred with as many as three letters, the source said.

The letters were subsequently redirected to the HSE but the blunder raises concerns over the confidentiality of the women involved.

The HSE press office did not respond to a number of queries about the return address error, but did say the HSE wished to apologise for "the undoubted distress this will have caused".

A Department of Agriculture spokeswoman said it was making inquiries into the matter.

The revelation comes after the Irish Independent yesterday revealed several women learned they had previously had a cancer diagnosis only when they were contacted by the review.

These were women who underwent procedures following cancer screening and had micro-invasive cancer or precancerous cells removed.

Notifications in relation to these women were later sent to the National Cancer Registry. However, it appears they were not informed of the diagnosis by their doctors.

It is understood none of the women involved has cancer now.

By Thursday, around 30 women had contacted the HSE with queries regarding the letters they received. Several of these women said they were never previously told about the diagnosis.

Following yesterday's revelations this number grew.

In a statement last night, the HSE said 58 women had now called its information line with queries in relation to micro-invasive treatment. It said the women were "unclear as to why they were being asked to participate in the review".

The statement said that while the National Cancer Registry recorded micro-invasive treatment such as cervical cancer, not all women who received this treatment might have been aware of this.

Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died after two smear tests failed to show up her cancer, said: "There needs to be a full open and transparent relationship between doctors and patients so that these types of situations don't arise."

A further 300 letters are set to be issued in the coming days, bringing to 1,800 the number of women who will be asked for consent to their cases being included in the review.

Around 500 women have already consented.

Irish Independent

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