Cervical tests review ‘hasn’t been delayed because of the Government’

Vicky Phelan

ByJuno McEnroe and Fiachra Ó Cionnaith

The Government has denied being responsible for delays in a review of cervical cancer smear tests and has blamed problems with consent and attempts to assess previous screening.

The defence comes after claims by patient advocates Vicky Phelan and widower Stephen Teap that the review is purposely being delayed as it will reveal many more women were misdiagnosed.

Ms Phelan, who has terminal cancer, was awarded €2.5m this year after she received an incorrect smear test result. Her case ignited the CervicalCheck controversy.

Originally the Government said a review of slides for 3,000 women who developed cancer would be done by May. But it now looks unlikely to be finished until much later this year.

An initial audit of 1,400 women found that more than 200 cases were misdiagnosed. The larger audit will cover 1,850 cases with screening history.

A separate scoping inquiry into the cancer controversy will report in early September. But Ms Phelan and Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died a year ago after being misdiagnosed, claimed earlier this week there is a “political game playing going on” and the audit results are being kicked down the road.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, speaking in Rome, rejected that.

The review has been delayed, but it hasn’t been delayed because of Government action or inaction, it was our decision to carry out the review and to ask the College of Obs and Gynae to do that work for us. So yes it has been delayed, but it wasn’t the Government’s decision to do that by any means.

“We need to make sure that patients and women consent, we need to make sure that they are given proper information as to what that involves, and immediate information on the result of the audit. We also need to make sure that there is not any retrospective bias, that it is done properly.”

The Department of Health also insists it is committed to reviewing the smear tests as quickly as possible. A statement on behalf of Health Minister Simon Harris said it noted work was ongoing with an expert panel review established to examine the screening history of women who participated in CervicalCheck and who were later diagnosed with cancer.

The review is being carried out by an independent panel of experts from the UK’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology.

The statement said: “The preparatory phase to conduct a review of this scale and complexity is currently well underway. In light of the particular sensitivities surrounding this issue, written, informed consent will be sought from women or the next-of-kin of women who have passed away before they are included in the review.

“The review will take a number of months to complete, and is expected to provide clarity and reassurance to the women of Ireland who partake in the CervicalCheck Programme.”

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