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Dublin: 3°C Thursday 26 November 2020

Number of women affected by smear test scandal expected to increase

The Head of the National Screening Service Damien McCallion says more women will be contacted about their cancer test audits.

THE NUMBER OF women affected by the recent smear test scandal is likely to increase as more cases are reviewed, according to the new head of CervicalCheck.

The CervicalCheck controversy came into the public eye when Vicky Phelan, whose cervical cancer is now terminal, settled a High Court action against the HSE and the US laboratory tasked with reviewing one of her smears.

It was then revealed that some 209 women were not told about the clinical audit of their cancer tests.

The head of the National Screening Service Damien McCallion says more women will be contacted about their cancer test audits.

There is currently a further audit of 46 cases, of which 12 are close to completion. McCallion said:

“Yes it will get larger, I would expect, before the Royal College review concludes … there are people who are being added at the moment as the audit goes through.”

The State Claims Agency told the Public Accounts Committee that there are currently 28 active legal cases in relation to CervicalCheck.

Scally documents 

Health Minister Simon Harris launched an inquiry into the controversy last month with Dr Scally carrying out the inquiry.

Last week it was revealed that Dr Scally received scanned versions of documents from the HSE and that the documents were not searchable.

Scally expressed his dissatisfaction with this and it was also criticised by the Health Minister yesterday.

Speaking at the Public Accounts Committee, Labour TD Alan Kelly asked, “Why isn’t he [Scally] given remote or direct access to all the files the HSE staff have?”

The programme manager for CervicalCheck John Gleeson told the committee, “We did raise it but the response was no”.

He said the process was agreed with Dr Scally’s team.

The Director General of the HSE John Connaghan said that some of the documents require legal clearance or the consent of other parties before they can be released.

He added that the HSE is working on the issue of documents not being searchable due to the technical limitations of scanned documents.

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell said, “It’s disrespectful to us and to the public as far as I’m concerned. It seems like a deliberate attempt to stop information being received.

I just kind of wonder what the point of you all is at this stage? It must be meeting 10 or 12 and we’re no further, there’s no point in you because you can’t give us answers.

“I think the whole lot of you should be sent packing , this is the middle of June and we’re none the wiser.”

Contradictory evidence

In the last meeting on the CervicalCheck controversy, the State Claims Agency provided information that conflicted with the evidence given by the HSE regarding its statement that the women involved had received their test results.

The head of the State Claims Agency, Ciarán Breen, says he was told by the programme manager of CervicalCheck, John Gleeson, that all women whose smears had been audited had been informed, or were assumed to have been informed.

However, it later became clear that those women were not informed.

Gleeson told the Public Accounts Committee that he did make that assumption.

“I certainly did not intended to cause any confusion, lack of clarity, lack of directness and if that was the occasion, I express my apology for it. ”

Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien said, “I think you’re trying to play with words. The question was very clear, the impression given to State Claims Agency was that all women had been informed.”

Sean Fleming put it to Gleeson, “You were operating in good faith but it wasn’t a valid assumption for you to arrive at.”

It was also revealed that members of the State Claims Agency and HSE met after the contradiction was noted.

Alan Kelly said, “I find it strange that the State Claims Agency and HSE met … I’m not sure of appropriateness of it.”

Catherine Connolly added, “It looks like you decided to give the one story.”

Asked if he believes his position is tenable, Gleeson said, “Yes, I do”.

The Director General of the HSE John Connaghan said, “There is no reason to believe his position [Gleeson's] is untenable at this stage.”


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