Q& A

Irish Independent - - News - Eil­ish O’Regan

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.

Photo: Brian Law­less

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.

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