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There are 10 active legal claims made in relation to CervicalCheck smear tests

Legal proceedings against the HSE or laboratories involved in smear tests have commenced in 6 of those cases.

Hse cervical Check Representatives of the HSE, CervicalCheck and the SIMT before the Oireachtas Health Committee. Source: Oireachtas TV

THERE ARE 10 active legal claims in relation to the CervicalCheck audit controversy, HSE General Director Tony O’Brien has said.

Legal proceedings have commenced in six cases, which have been taken against the HSE and/or the laboratories involved in analysing the smear tests. In three of these cases indemnities have been received by the State from the laboratories involved.

Solicitors’ correspondence has been received in relation to a further four cases, and they are aware of one further case which is likely to give rise to a claim.

Following a series of concerning revelations around Ireland’s smear test programme CervicalCheck, a number of senior figures in Ireland’s health and cancer care are answering questions before the Oireachtas Health Committee (you can watch here).

Over the past few days it’s been revealed that at least 208 women who received a cervical cancer diagnosis weren’t told that their smear tests were reviewed and found to have required a different action/outcome. Of the 162 women who hadn’t been told that their smear tests had been reviewed, 15 have died.

Last night the Health Minister Simon Harris revealed to the Dáil that there were other cases of cervical cancer that weren’t reported to CervicalCheck, and because of this were never reviewed. This was because they had been reported to the National Cancer Registry instead, and the two figures are different.

Speaking on the Six One News this evening, Harris said that he was “mad as hell” and “frustrated” that he was misinformed about the number of smear tests that had been reviewed. He said that he expected whoever was to be “full accountability” once it was established who was responsible for the errors.

The smear test scandal came to light after Limerick mother-of-two Vicky Phelan settled a High Court case for €2.5 million; the action was taken against the US laboratory who analysed her test. Phelan’s 2011 smear test results were reviewed in 2014, where an error was found. She wasn’t told about the review or the error until 2017, three years after receiving a cervical cancer diagnosis.

Tony OBrien HSE DG Tony O'Brien. Source: Oireachtas TV

In his opening statement today, HSE Director Tony O’Brien apologised to Phelan and her family for the failings in her case.

He said that women will be informed from now on whether they’re part of an audit and that it was ”essential” to reestablish confidence in our cervical screening programme.

On Prime Time last night, O’Brien couldn’t say for sure that women’s cervical cancer treatment wasn’t compromised by not informing women that their cancer could have been caught sooner (and that information in turn being shared with their doctors).

He said that public confidence in the CervicalCheck programme had been “shaken” which was the “most tragic thing” about this incident as there was a danger that they would see rates of cervical cancer increase as a result.

O’Brien also added that it wasn’t the HSE or State Claims Agency that asked for a non-disclosure agreement from Vicky Phelan, but the US lab involved in her court case.

36 women yet to be told

SIMT Source: Oireachtas

The Oireachtas Committee was also told that there are 36 women with cervical cancer diagnoses who still haven’t been told that their smear tests were reviewed and misinterpreted.

Patrick Lynch of the Serious Incident Management Team (SIMT) which was sent in to investigate CervicalCheck’s audit, said this is because of various difficulties getting in touch with women.

Of that number, there are 14 women outside the public health system, and efforts are being made to get in contact with them or their families.

Of the total number of 208 women who weren’t told about their smear test review, 172 have been told (that’s up from 46 on Friday).

Lynch said that in relation to the second cohort of women affected by the smear test scandal, it’s estimated that the number of women affected will be less than 200.

“The two groups are not similar, and I would say there will be less than 200 in the second [National Cancer Registry] group.

And I’ve based that on the fact that the women in second cohort are older and aren’t likely to have gone through the smear – they’re more likely to have gone straight to GP services with bleeding.

The committee was told that it would take approximately a week and a half and “not months” to reconcile the two lists and cross check whether the women on the National Cancer Registry had had smear tests done.

Fear about smear tests

Dr Peter McKenna, Clinical Director at the National Women and Infants Programme, said that he couldn’t answer whether the error rate for smear tests in Ireland was as expected.

He said that smear tests aren’t designed to diagnose cancer, so “if you have a clinical cancer, the chances of them being found in a smear test are less than if you have a precancer”.

He said that based on a rough estimation of 200 incorrect smear test readings out of 3 million, it appeared that they were within the margin of error.

But he also added that the correspondence sent out to women that says the tests aren’t “100% accurate” should be changed to reflect the more exact rate of error. McKenna and the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan disagreed in committee on what that exact error rate was.

Addressing concerns about the fear women had about their smear test:

There’s no need for people who have had negative results in their smear tests to do anything except attend their next screening.

Tony O’Brien said that in February 2016, CervicalCheck began reviewing historical cervical cancer cases who had a smear test. He added that “all historical reviews were communicated to treating doctors by October 2016 and the programme has been communicating current cases since that date”.

O’Brien said that the news was a “personal blow” to him, as he began his career in the BreastCheck programme. He said he would spend the greater part of his final few weeks as Director General of the HSE to address the CervicalCheck issues.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

The “taking it personally” comment drew criticism from Fine Gael figures Kate O’Connell, who told the Director General “this isn’t about you”; and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty, who said “damn bloody right he should take this personally”.

He should devote every single hour and every single minute to make sure that we get clarity of information, of purpose and delivery of this particular service, that there is no stone left unturned.

“We have a bloody right to know information about our own bodies.”

O’Brien said that he has asked Damien McCallion, the HSE’s National Director of Emergency Management, to take charge of the National Cancer Screening Service to help sort the problems – he will report directly to O’Brien.

“I will be taking a very close approach to this,” O’Brien said.

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