Monday 23 September 2019

As many as 1,500 cervical cancer cases not audited, Dáil hears

  • Potentially considerable number of cases not subjected to an audit, Harris tells the Dáil
  • Health Minister commends Vicky Phelan for her intervention
  • Revelation described as a 'bombshell' by Labour party
Vicky Phelan (inset) has shone a spotlight on the national cervical cancer screening programme
Vicky Phelan (inset) has shone a spotlight on the national cervical cancer screening programme
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

AS many as 1,500 more women could be dragged into the cervical cancer scandal, the Dáil has heard.

In what has been described as a “bombshell”,  Health Minister Simon Harris revealed that a “potentially considerable number of cases” where women developed cancer were not subjected to an audit.

It was believed that all existing smear tests were re-examined as a matter of practice if a woman was later diagnosed with cervical cancer.

However, the Serious Incident Management Team (SIMT) sent into CervicalCheck since Vicky Phelan settled her case has today discovered that not all cases were examined.

Mr Harris said he did not have “specific figures” but agreed with Fianna Fáil’s Stephen Donnelly that it could be in the region of 1,500.

Records from CervicalCheck show that 1,482 cases were reviewed since 2008. Of these 208 were showed to have ‘false negatives’.

Tonight’s revelation suggest another 1,500 will now have to be studied.

Mr Harris told the Dáil this evening that a “potentially considerable number of cases” are now being uncovered by a special team he sent in to investigate CervicalCheck.

“I have to inform the House of some emerging information that I have received late this afternoon from the Serious Incident Management Team (SIMT). 

“While I had previously been advised and it had been commonly understood that the CervicalCheck clinical audit covered all cases notified by the National Cancer Registry, I have been informed this afternoon that this is not the case,” Mr Harris said.

“While CervicalCheck has audited all cases notified to it, I have been informed that a potentially considerable number of cases will not have been subjected to an audit of their screening history.

“These are not new cases of cancer.  Nor is it a group of women wondering if they have cancer.  These are women who have already been diagnosed with cervical cancer and treated as such but their cases have not been included in a clinical audit.”

The HSE has said in a statement that approximately 3,000 women In Ireland have been diagnosed with cervical cancer since 2008, and approximately half (1,482) of these cases were notified to CervicalCheck.

The HSE SIMT is working with the National Cancer Registry to see if any other women who have had cervical cancer should be included in the audit of historical screening tests and anyone affected by this will be also be contacted.

Opening his Dáil statement, the minister recognised the contribution of Vicky Phelan in bringing the scandal to public attention.

“We are all here I think we can agree because Vicky Phelan spoke out.  I recognise that to do so cannot have been easy for her or her family.  But her courage and tenacity has done a great service to the women of Ireland and her actions will ultimately lead to improvements for all,” he said.

Mr Harris defended his own handling of the controversy, saying that a briefing note supplied to him by officials on April 16 suggested women were being informed of any errors in their treatment.

“In an appendix with background information, it outlined the clinical cancer audit process including that all current and historical clinical cancer audits had been communicated to treating clinicians in 2016 and that, more recently, women are informed of this audit process and have the option to request information on the outcomes of these reviews.

“It was not clear until after the details of the case became public that this process was not ensuring that women were informed and once I became aware of that I ordered immediate change,” he said.

Outlining the need for an investigation, Mr Harris said: “Given the gravity of the situation, and the impact it has had on Vicky Phelan and potentially a number of other women, I think it is vital that we ensure that we put in place a process that will allow all of us – patients, doctors and policy makers – to understand exactly what happened, and what steps we need to rectify the situation.”

The minister said he will take “every action possible to ensure that an incident such as this does not happen again”.

“I acknowledge the very difficult circumstances that Ms Phelan and her family are now in, and I would like to thank her for her bravery in bringing this to light.

“But in all the debate that is ongoing it is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that the cancer screening programme has saved the lives of many, many women.”

"We must do all we can to ensure that women continue to attend for smear testing.  We acknowledge things went wrong but we are determined to put things right."

The Labour Party’s health spokesman Alan Kelly described the revelations as a “bombshell”.

“We need to deal with the bombshell you are just having dropping in here today,” he said.

“What is the number of cases that have now not being audited. This is a bombshell. What volume of women have not had their cases audited?”

The HSE has said it will provide further information and updates over the coming days on and anyone with concerns may contact the CervicalCheck information phone line on 1800 45 45 55.

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