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Statute of limitation fears for women affected by CervicalCheck controversy as coronavirus delays tribunal

The Department of Health said it is “examining various options” to ensure nobody is disadvantaged.

Stephen Teap, Lorraine Walsh and Vicky Phelan surrounded by some of the 221 cervical cancer patients who received an incorrect smear test.
Stephen Teap, Lorraine Walsh and Vicky Phelan surrounded by some of the 221 cervical cancer patients who received an incorrect smear test.
Image: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has informed women who were affected by the CervicalCheck screening scandal that the tribunal set up to investigate what happened will be delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The issues with the screening programme emerged after a High Court case was taken by campaigner Vicky Phelan in 2018. The service failed to tell women who had been diagnosed with cancer that their original smear tests had been reviewed after their diagnosis.

In December 2018, the Government agreed to set up a tribunal to provide an alternative system to the courts for dealing with claims arising from CervicalCheck. 

Regarding the delay, a statement on the tribunal’s official website reads: “Given the ongoing and quickly evolving situation in relation to Covid-19 the decision has been made to delay the establishment of the CervicalCheck Tribunal. 

“This decision has been made in response to both the measures which were announced by the Taoiseach on 12 March and the understanding that the intended claimants may be considered to be at risk if they were to contract the virus.

“The situation will be monitored and further updates in relation to the establishment of the tribunal will be posted on this website. Any update will also be communicated to the relevant groups through the usual channels. As soon as medical advice recommends that it would be safe and prudent to establish the tribunal all steps necessary to do so will be taken as expeditiously as possible.”

A campaign group, called The 221+, was set up to support individuals identified by the HSE as being directly affected by failures in the CervicalCheck Screening Programme. This includes the 221 women and next of kin identified in 2018 through the internal audit process.

The group said it now has concerns that the delay in the tribunal will result in the statute of limitations being exceeded for some of the women who are bringing the State to account. 

A statement from the group reads: “We welcome the recognition of the inherent vulnerability that cervical cancer creates in all that suffer it and the respect shown for that vulnerability in the current circumstances.

“We have, however, flagged to the department our concern at the possibility that the delay will now cause the statute of limitations to be reached for some of those planning to bring a claim before the tribunal.

“The department has acknowledged this as a concern and has assured us that it is examining various options to address the issue and to ensure that no prospective claimant is disadvantaged by this necessary decision. 221+ will continue to advocate actively on this matter until it is no longer a concern.” 

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