Wednesday 20 February 2019

Taoiseach denies CervicalCheck programme is in 'jeopardy'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Kevin Doyle and John Downing

The programme which provide cervical cancer screening tests for women is "in jeopardy", the Dáil has heard.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claimed to have information that CervicalCheck is in "crisis mode" but the Government is trying to prevent the detail becoming public knowledge.

It comes after a number of women have been told that smear tests taken in the second half of 2018  are "null and void" and will have to be redone because the HSE did not process them in time.

Mr Martin has demanded that Health Minister Simon Harris come before the Dáil to explain how the situation developed.

"It is now in crisis mode at this very moment," he said, adding that women were facing "unacceptable and enormous backlogs" of up to six months for test results. The normal waiting period used to be just 10 days.

The HSE is struggling to get smears reviewed in a timely fashion since Mr Harris offered all women a free test at the height of the CervicalCheck scandal last May.

The free tests were brought to an end last month.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted the minister alerted him to issues with a backlog in recent weeks.

He said the free tests were offered in a bid to relieve some of the anxiety that was being felt by women when it emerged that Vicky Phelan and others had not been told about misread tests.

"That decision was made by the minister in good faith to answer the considerable anxieties," Mr Varadkar said.

He added in the wake of the controversy the number of women presenting for smear tests grew considerable and "put immense pressure on labs".

The HSE is working with the laboratories to recruit extra staff to review slides and are also looking for new centres to share the workload.

Mr Varadkar said: "It will be possible to reduce that backlog over the next few weeks."

Mr Martin argued it was not good enough to that "significant number of tests rendered null and void" because of the delays.

"This was discovered last year and not revealed," he said.

"It is my understanding and my information that the programme is in jeopardy because of all of this.

"The withholding of info, the secrecy and denial that part of the first phase of this scandal is being repeated again."

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