VICKY PHELAN, who exposed the Cervical Check scandal, wants accountability. Is she any nearer getting it?
No, although the net has tightened thanks to the quizzing of top health officials before the Oireachtas health committee and the Public Accounts Committee.
It seems there were strong hints that women who developed cervical cancer were not being told they were the victim of a mistake before Ms Phelan’s High Court revelations last month?
Some doctors in the HSE were told in July of a dispute over who would inform Ms Phelan about her review.
It was regarded as an isolated case.
But in September the former clinical director of CervicalCheck, Grainne Flannelly, was clearly told of the unease among hospital doctors that they were given the job of breaking the news to the women.
Who attended the meeting?
Specialists from around the country. The mistake in the smear test was not of their making and there was obvious resistance to putting the duty on them to tell the women.
Do we know if this triggered action?
It’s unclear but whatever happened was not effective.
The women were supposed to get their reviews from mid-2016 onwards but up to two weeks ago 162 of the 209 women involved, including relatives of the deceased, were still oblivious to the existence of these reports. Did we learn any more about women who developed cervical cancer over the past decade whose cases were not audited by CervicalCheck?
Yes, the names of 1,600 women have now been given to CervicalCheck by the National Cancer Registry in the past week.
Why did CervicalCheck not have access to information on these women up to now?
The Public Accounts Committee was told that data protection law blocked the transfer.
Does this apply to Breastcheck and Bowelscreen also?
There is no transfer of information to Bowelscreen yet but it is in place for Breastcheck. It is bizarre that it exists for one but not the others. It is based on patient consent.
So how many of the 1,600 got cervical cancer after an incorrect smear test result?
We don’t know. There is a lot of investigation to happen yet.
What about the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan? He was involved in intense discussions with the HSE and CervicalCheck for much of 2016. Has he now changed his mind about the decision not to tell the minister?
No. He stuck to his line yesterday that it was reasonable not to.
But he knew a letter went to doctors to use their judgment about whether to
tell the women and just note it on the file of patients who died?
Yes. He believes that was acceptable for a screening programme. But many members of the committee believe it contradicts the policy of open disclosure. The Department of Health’s Secretary General Jim Breslin also said it was not of a scale to tell the minister in 2016.
Yes. We now know most of the women were not told of the test mistakes. But it was clear in 2016 that behind the statistics were real people, all of whom developed cancer and some who had died. This was no ordinary release of reports. It was the first of its kind by a screening programme and his judgment must definitely be brought into question. Has Health Minister Simon
Harris introduced new reporting measures in the wake of the scandal? No, Mr Breslin said he has not.
So what happens now?
The Scally review into the scandal is underway. Labour TD Alan Kelly said he will continue to ask some of the key officials in the Department and HSE to stand aside while it is ongoing to ensure fairness.
Vicky Phelan and Stephen Teap, husband of the late Irene Teap. Ms Phelan and Ms Teap both received erroneous results from the CervicalCheck screening programme.