smear tests

Vicky Phelan says CervicalCheck inquiry must be done urgently and in public

The Irish Cancer Society has said its helpline has been inundated with calls from women, some of whom are “extremely distressed”.

original (2) Vicky Phelan RTÉ Prime Time RTÉ Prime Time

VICKY PHELAN HAS said the inquiry into the CervicalCheck controversy must be done as a matter of urgency and in a public fashion.

The controversy was brought into the public eye following a court case by Phelan, who is terminally ill. Last week she was awarded €2.5 million over incorrect smear test results from 2011.

Earlier this week, Health Minister Simon Harris announced the launch of a Health Information and Quality Authority statutory investigation into the CervicalCheck screening programme.

It has emerged that more than 1,500 women who developed cervical cancer did not have their cases reviewed by CervicalCheck.

The HSE has confirmed that 17 women whose cases were reviewed as part of an audit have died. It has yet to be determined if their deaths were due to delayed diagnoses.

Cian O’Carroll, Phelan’s solicitor, told RTE’s Morning Ireland, any investigation must be held in public, but that he is “wary” of going down a tribunal route.

“We’ve had a number of serious scandals in our health system. This one goes to affect so many people that I think it does justify an open public forum – even if it does take longer, even if it costs more money,” O’Carroll said.

‘Extremely distressed’ 

The Irish Cancer Society’s Cancer Nurseline, an information service staffed by trained cancer nurses, has been “inundated” with calls about the controversy in recent days.

Speaking to, the helpline’s manager Naomi Fitzgibbon said there has been a “significant increase” in terms of people getting in touch via the helpline, email and social media.

Fitzgibbon said about 100 people called the helpline yesterday – a much higher number than normal.

She said some of the people who have got in touch are directly affected by the controversy, while others have more general concerns or don’t fully understand the situation – something compounded by confusing information being shared.

“We’re answering people’s individual questions, explaining what has happened and making sure people understand what they need to do,” Fitzgibbon told us.

“There’s a team of specialist cancer nurses here to answer specific queries from a medical information point of view.”

Fitzgibbon said the nurses are also directing people who need additional emotional support to counselling services, noting: “Some women are extremely distressed.”

‘Screening is not perfect’ 

Fitzgibbon said that screening is “not perfect” and mistakes will happen. However, she stressed that it plays an important role in helping to detect cancer.

We want people to know that screening is important so that the next time they receive a letter inviting them to a screening that they don’t just put the letter in the bin. We want to help people make an informed decision and look after their health.

“Screening is not perfect, it’s not the be all, it’s not the end all. People have to look after their health as well. It’s one part of being aware and taking that opportunity to look for early signs and symptoms, but it doesn’t prevent cancer from happening,” she said.

The Irish Cancer Society’s free helpline can be contacted on 1800 200 700 from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. People can also get in touch via email, social media or online.

In recent days, thousands of people have also contacted the HSE’s CervicalCheck freephone helpline (open from 9am to 6pm every day) on 1800 45 45 55 (from Ireland) or +353 21 4217612 (outside Ireland). More information can be read here.

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