CervicalCheck inquiry team returning to US
New support group for 221 women affected by scandal to be launched today
THE team investigating the CervicalCheck crisis will travel to America within weeks to examine the outsourcing of Irish smear tests by a Texas laboratory to labs in Honolulu, Florida and Las Vegas.
Dr Gabriel Scally’s damning report on the screening controversy revealed how smear tests contracted to be read by Clinical Pathology Laboratories (CPL) in Austin, Texas, ended up being dispatched to other smaller laboratories.
Scally’s team is to return to CPL to find out the “exact number of samples that were subcontracted to laboratories and the locations of those laboratories”.
A cytopathologist assisting Dr Scally told the Oireachtas health committee last week that many of the labs to which the tests were subcontracted “no longer exist and many were very small”.
Dr Karen Denton also said that the same smear tests could been sent for analysis to two different locations. “We have further inquiries to make regarding the governance and accreditation of all of these services,” she said.
CervicalCheck didn’t know about the outsourcing, and Dr Scally said the news came as a “complete shock” to the HSE.
The HSE stopped using CPL in 2012, and Dr Scally expressed his confidence in the laboratories currently contracted by the service.
A surge in legal actions since the CervicalCheck crisis emerged in April has had a huge impact on negotiations with two of the three laboratories contracted by the HSE to analyse smear tests.
The HSE has been in protracted talks with Quest, in the US, and Med Lab, in Dublin, to renew the contracts, which are due to expire this weekend.
The talks faltered over who should take liability for the false negative results in the screening process.
Reports that the State had secured provisional arrangements with the laboratories this weekend went unconfirmed by the HSE.
According to reports yesterday, the State is proposing to take into the public sector screening staff that are currently working for one of the contracted laboratories, Med Lab in Dublin, while negotiating new terms and fees with Quest Diagnostics in the US.
Meanwhile, an independent support group for women affected by the CervicalCheck crisis is due to be launched in Dublin today.
The group has been named 221 after the number of women with cervical cancer who were impacted by the crisis. Twenty of the women have since died.
It was set up by several of the families affected, but principally Vicky Phelan, who exposed the CervicalCheck crisis earlier this year, Lorraine Walsh, who also received incorrect smear tests results, and Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died last year.
The Irish Cancer Society, the Irish Patient’s Association and the Marie Keating Foundation also assisted in the set-up.
The group aim to address the practical needs of women with cervical cancer and the families of women who have died of the disease. Around 140 of the affected women attended an information day last month, organised by the support group. Workshops were held on bereavement, psychosexual issues, fertility and dealing with symptoms post-treatment.
A steering group overseeing the implementation of Dr Scally’s recommendations also agreed last month that an expert group should be set up to look at the best way of helping and supporting women who are seeking fertility treatment.
Dr Scally told last week’s health meeting that screening programmes should compensate people for errors that have serious consequences in a non-adversarial way.
The next phase of his work is focusing on the decision to outsource the reading of smear tests, the original tendering process and the accreditations of the laboratories.
He said he was not content with the system of accreditation of laboratories or the original tendering process. He said he was concerned with laboratories that “might have wanted to take part in the tendering process but which did not”.
CAMPAIGNER: Vicky Phelan