Wednesday 18 July 2018

Documents reveal CervicalCheck knew months ago that women weren't being told of smear test mistakes

Irene Teap and husband Stephen try on wigs after her hair fell out
Irene Teap and husband Stephen try on wigs after her hair fell out
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

CervicalCheck was warned last September about the resistance of hospital doctors to hand over reports to women with cervical cancer telling them they were the victim of a wrong smear result.

The key internal CervicalCheck documents were released to the Public Accounts Committee today as Department of Health and HSE officials were called for another grilling on the cancer scandal.

The documents heap more pressure on CervicalCheck, the HSE and Department of Health officials to explain why no action was taken for so long to ensure women received the report telling them they has got a wrong smear test result.

Two weeks ago it emerged that that 162 of the 209 women who developed cervical cancer after an incorrect smear test were still not given their internal CervicalCheck report confirming the mistake.

HSE officials told the Oireachtas health committee yesterday they believed the reports were being given to the women by their doctors from October 2016.

But the minutes of a CervicalCheck meeting in September last year released today show a "robust discussion" about the reports.

CervivalCheck medical director Dr Grainne Flannelly was told that putting the onus on doctors to tell the women was not correct and caused a deal of concern and negative feelings towards CervicalCheck from the doctors.

There was general agreement that the process should be changed.

The documents raise questions about the response of CervicalCheck and why it failed to track how many of the 209 women or their relatives were actually getting their reports.

Yesterday the Director General of the Department of Health Jim Breslin said despite months of discussions with CervicalCheck and the HSE about the release of the reports to women in 2016 it was “not of sufficient scale” to escalate to the Minister for Health.

Today he said if the Department of Health knew about the non-disclosure of the reports to women it would have triggered an immediate response.

He claimed the Department only found out about the failure to tell women about the reports in April when Vicky Phelan brought her High Court case.

Acting HSE chief John Connaghan told PAC today that the CervicalCheck Programme had commenced sending letters to treating clinicians in February 2016.

“All individuals briefed expected that women affected would be receiving information from their treating clinicians on the result of the audit findings pertinent to their case.

“The subject matter of the March 2016 briefing was to provide a snapshot of the process to date and to escalate a particular issue at hand.

“This issue concerned one laboratory (Quest Diagnostics) that challenged the CervicalCheck Programme communications process with treating clinicians and invoked a dispute resolution process, as provided for in their contract. CervicalCheck and the National Screening Service requested support to resolve it.

“I have been advised that this is why ‘pause all letters’ was listed as a next step in the briefing. It was imperative that CervicalCheck and the National Screening Service resolved this issue so as to ensure it had solid legal footing to continue with its work in sending audit findings to treating clinicians for onward disclosure to the women concerned, within the guidelines set out." 

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