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CervicalCheck: Senior team sent in to ensure women told about smear reviews

Health Minister Simon Harris said that a helpline would open from 9am tomorrow to answer women’s questions.

Simon Harris Source: RTÉ Player

Updated at 8pm

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has said that a team has been sent to ensure women have been told about the result of their smear reviews and that a helpline will be set up to help answer women’s questions.

“Like the rest of the country when I heard Vicky on the steps of the courts say that she wanted to see some good come out of her horrific situation I took a number of steps.”

Speaking on the RTÉ Six One News, Harris said added to his decision to review the process of Cervical Check, he was to take two other steps.

The first is to send in a senior medical team into CervicalCheck to ensure that the affected women are informed that their smear tests had been reviewed and that they are offered the results of their review.

The second is to set up a helpline that will open from 9am tomorrow to answer women’s questions: 1800 454 555.

I’ve sent in a sent in a senior team into CervicalCheck to take charge of the situation here, to take charge of making sure that any woman who may not have been told or who may have been told that her case has been audited to make sure she has been informed.
Appointments will be offered to any woman who may not have been told and who may need a follow up conversation starting on Monday.
Women who are watching this programme tonight, who have cervical cancer and are worried ‘could I have been told earlier’, ‘was I not informed’ they will be hearing in the early days of next week of an appointment to meet with their clinician.

The Health Minister said earlier that he doesn’t have confidence in the management of CervicalCheck programme following the fallout of the case of Vicky Phelan.

The Limerick mother-of-two had a smear test in 2011 where abnormalities were missed. She wasn’t informed until last year despite the information coming to light following a 2014 audit.

In addition, it has been revealed today that 200 cervical smear results should have resulted in earlier intervention.

Asked by reporters today if he has confidence in the management of the programme, the minister replied:

Truthfully I can’t say I do currently, and that is why I have ordered a review.

Since 2008 1,482 cases of cervical cancer have been notified to the CervicalCheck, Ireland’s national cervical screening programme.

In the majority of these cases there has been no requirement for further review.

However, a review was warranted in 442 cases. Of these, 206 reviews suggested a different result that would have “recommended an investigation to occur at an earlier stage”, the HSE said.

Yesterday, Harris instructed CervicalCheck to write to doctors of women who may have had their smear test reviewed to ensure they told their patients of their result.

“It’s absolutely essential that we establish that those doctors told their patients of the outcomes of those audits,” he said.

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Speaking today, the minister made it clear that he has full confidence in the screening programme, but could not say the same for its leadership.

“It is so important that people use the screening programme. It saves lives, it has detected cancer and it helps reduce the rate of cervical cancer…

“I am concerned that patients seem to get lost in process and there seems to be bureaucracy getting in the way of telling women basic information,” he said.

He added that women who have had their smear tests reviewed “have an absolute right to know” it has taken place. While it expected that doctors did inform their patients, the minister said it cannot be assumed.

Going forward, Harris said this process should be automatic so that the doctor gets told but the patient is told also.

He said the review he ordered yesterday will consult with international experts and benchmark Ireland’s CervicalCheck screening programme against best international practice.

- with reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha 

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