Monday 21 May 2018

State will pay for repeat smear tests for women, Health Minister confirms

Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Independent.ie Newsdesk and Eilish O'Regan

Women whose doctors feel they need further smear tests will have the procedure facilitated and paid for by CervicalCheck, it has been confirmed.

Health Minister Simon Harris said that women who may need re-tests will be "facilitated".

The Department of Health said in a statement this evening: "For any woman who has had a CervicalCheck smear test and where her GP feels she should have a further test as part of her reassurance, the Minister has asked CervicalCheck to make the necessary arrangements, including payment provision.

"These arrangements will be confirmed next week."

This comes hours after a helpline set up for women concerned about their cervical screening result is now fully operational after a 'technical glitch' led to a delay this morning.

The service was due to start taking calls at 9am but a problem meant that the service, available on 1800 45 45 55, only began shortly after 10.30am.

Minister called the problem a 'technical glitch' on Twitter adding that it was 'the last thing anyone needed, I know'.

Minister Harris, who said he has no confidence in the management of CervicalCheck, has also sent in a medical team to oversee the CervicalCheckservice.

He said that while he was fully supportive of the national screening service, he could “truthfully” say this did not extend to the people running CervicalCheck.

Last night, Mr Harris said that a senior medical team would investigate all patient files and ensure that all women who were patients were informed of their review.

The aim is to ensure that by early next week the 206 women who developed cancer after getting the wrong test result will be aware of any CervicalCheck reports into their case.

The team will report to Dr Colm Henry, who is a senior HSE clinical lead.

It is yet another crisis to emerge under the tenure of Mr Harris amid concerns of how it was allowed to escalate with potentially long-term implications for the faith women have in the service, which is aimed at preventing cervical cancer.

Mr Harris, who along with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, was opening a new €15m, 36-bedroom specialist palliative care unit in Our Lady’s Hospice in Harold’s Cross, Dublin, yesterday, was speaking after it emerged 206 women were wrongly given the all-clear by CervicalCheck and went on to develop cancer.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on health Stephen Donnelly said the Government still had many questions to answer over the handling “of a litany of errors relating to the cervical cancer screening programme”.

He said he would be quizzing the minister in the Dáil on Tuesday about his handling of the crisis.

“It’s completely unacceptable that women affected by these screening errors continue to be left in the dark,” said Mr Donnelly.

“Minister Harris must set out in detail what steps he is taking to ensure all affected women are informed immediately.

“He has to ensure that they will get priority follow up from the HSE, especially with the scheduling of urgent follow-up appointments.

“People must have full trust in our national screening programmes.”

Sinn Féin health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly said the “emerging story around the misdiagnosis of cervical cancer smear tests and the response from CervicalCheck is completely unacceptable”.

“The story of Vicky Phelan’s missed cancer diagnosis and its subsequent escalation to terminal cervical cancer is extremely upsetting and worrying.

“For Ms Phelan’s misdiagnosis to be known for almost three years is unacceptable,” she said.

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