46 more cases are to be ex­am­ined

Health Min­is­ter con­firms com­mis­sion of in­ves­ti­ga­tion

Irish Independent - - Front Page - Eil­ish O’ Regan and Laura Larkin

THE tragic toll of women who de­vel­oped cer­vi­cal can­cer af­ter re­ceiv­ing a wrong smear test re­sult is set to rise again, af­ter it emerged that an au­dit of 46 more cases no­ti­fied to Cer­vi­calCheck is un­der way.

Now the Health Min­is­ter says he wants to es­tab­lish an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion of in­quiry to ex­am­ine the con­tro­versy in Septem­ber.

Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar sug­gested the Cer­vi­calCheck scan­dal could widen to af­fect an­other 100 women or more.

“I don’t want to spec­u­late on that num­ber yet but it will ob­vi­ously be more than zero but prob­a­bly less than 100,” he said.

Speak­ing in Madrid, Mr Varad­kar re­ferred to the ad­di­tional cases of cer­vi­cal can­cer, span­ning the last decade, that have been no­ti­fied to Cer­vi­calCheck in re­cent weeks.

In the Dáil, Health Min­is­ter Si­mon Har­ris said he wanted to be “very clear” there would be a com­mis­sion of in­quiry within months.

Health of­fi­cials yes­ter­day faced an­other an­gry round of ques­tions in the Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee (PAC).

It prompted Labour TD Alan Kelly to ac­cuse some of the of­fi­cials of “mul­ti­ple arse-cov­er­ing”.

HSE di­rec­tor Damian McCal­lion said 46 au­dits in­volv­ing look-backs of women who de­vel­oped cer­vi­cal can­cer af­ter an in­cor­rect smear test were un­der way. Twelve are near­ing com­ple­tion. “As those au­dits are con­cluded, women will be con­tacted,” he said.

Sep­a­rate to the cur­rent au­dit of 46 women, an ex­am­i­na­tion of 1,600 cer­vi­cal can­cer cases is be­ing car­ried out. These were no­ti­fied to Cer­vi­calCheck by the Na­tional Can­cer Registry only in re­cent weeks.

It is be­lieved that around 1,000 of these women were not screened and did not have Cer­vi­calCheck smear tests.

The re­main­der will have their his­tory ex­am­ined by out­side ex­perts, to de­ter­mine if they went through Cer­vi­calCheck and if they were the vic­tim of smear test mis­takes.

The de­vel­op­ments fol­low the on­go­ing fall­out from the High Court case of Limerick mother-of-two Vicky Phe­lan, which lifted the lid on the mis­di­ag­no­sis of other women. It led to rev­e­la­tions that 209 women who were sub­ject to a look-back au­dit were found to have de­vel­oped can­cer af­ter their test was wrongly read.

Mr McCal­lion said yes­ter­day that a re­view of all the re­main­ing cases of women who de­vel­oped cer­vi­cal can­cer in the last decade was “close to com­mence­ment” by ex­perts from the Royal Col­lege of Ob­ste­tri­cians and Gy­nae­col­o­gists.

Cer­vi­calCheck is fac­ing a surge in le­gal ac­tions, ac­cord­ing to head of the State Claims Agency Ciaran Breen.

There are 30 cases at var­i­ous stages of lit­i­ga­tion in­clud­ing two “po­ten­tial” le­gal claims against Cer­vi­calCheck, but this num­ber has since soared. All the cases are against US labs or US-con­trolled labs. There are five cases for al­leged mis­di­ag­no­sis of breast can­cer and 12 against Bow­elscreen.

Re­fer­ring to cases brought by women with cer­vi­cal can­cer, Mr Breen said: “We are short-cir­cuit­ing cases and im­me­di­ately ad­mit­ting breach of duty for non-dis­clo­sure of the au­dits.”

Mean­while, act­ing HSE chief John Con­naghan said he had met with Dr Gabriel Scally, who is con­duct­ing a scop­ing in­quiry into the scan­dal.

Dr Scally com­plained about re­ceiv­ing 4,000 doc­u­ments in the last week, many of which are dif­fi­cult to read and un­search­able on a com­puter.

Mr Con­naghan blamed “tech­ni­cal is­sues” for the poor for­mat and pledged to work to over­come the prob­lems.

Asked about de­lays in giv­ing women their per­sonal files, the HSE said the aim was to pro­vide the doc­u­ments to them within around 30 days of re­quest.

Mr Con­naghan con­firmed the HSE was now ready to hand over the con­tracts re­lat­ing to lab­o­ra­to­ries in the US used by Cer­vi­calCheck. This had been de­layed to get le­gal clear­ance.

‘The num­ber will ob­vi­ously be more than zero but prob­a­bly less than 100’

Head of the State Claims Agency Ciaran Breen said scan­dal-hit Cer­vi­calCheck was fac­ing a surge in le­gal ac­tions

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