Latest: CervicalCheck chief stands down in wake of controversy over smear test results

Dr Gráinne Flannelly, Clinical Director of CervicalCheck

Update 10.30pm: Dr Gráinne Flannelly has stepped down from her position as the Clinical Director of CervicalCheck following the current controversy over smear test results.

She informed the HSE of her decision this evening saying she is sorry that recent events have caused distress and worry to women, and was stepping aside to allow the CervicalCheck programme to continue its important work.

The HSE confirmed the news tonight, thanking Professor Flannelly for helping to introduce a programme that has saved the lives of countless women through screening and early intervention.

Update 7pm: Free tests are being arranged for women who have had CervicalCheck smear tests and whose GP feels further testing would provide reassurance.

The Department of Health says the Health Minister has asked CervicalCheck to make the necessary arrangements - details of which will be confirmed next week.

It comes just a day after a senior health team was appointed to take charge of the programme.

The National Women's Council of Ireland says it's vital that women keep coming forward for cancer screening.

NWCI Director Orla O'Connor has welcomed the independent review that's been ordered, saying women must be able to have full confidence in the system.

She said: "Women who engage with the screening service are actually being very responsible in looking after their health and seeking to prevent cancer.

"We would absolutely want women to continue to do that, it's really important.

"They must also be given those assurances by Government that we have a screening service of the highest standard, of best international practice, and also, we have a very transparent communication process."

Update - 1.54pm: The HSE has issued an apology to anyone who was unable to contact their CervicalCheck helpline this morning.

The service encountered a technical glitch and was unavailable from 9am to 10:30am.

The HSE says more than 300 calls have been made to the helpline as of 1pm this afternoon.

The HSE statement on CervicalCheck today said:

"A HSE Serious Incident Management Team (SIMT) was established yesterday (Friday 27th April 2018) in relation to the CervicalCheck programme and has met for the second time today (Saturday 28th April 2018).

"The SIMT has sought a full review from the CervicalCheck programme of 206 cases whose cytology reviews suggested a different result from the original and that would have recommended an investigation to occur at an earlier stage.

"Clinical personnel across the country are reviewing relevant files relating to the 206 cases over the weekend with a view to providing assurance to SIMT that all of the women have been contacted at this time. We expect the majority of this work to be completed by Monday (30th).

"If it is found that any women have not been contacted by their treating clinicians at this time, that appropriate arrangements will be put in place to communicate with these women or their families immediately.

"A help-line was established yesterday for women who may have concerns regarding previous smears to get further information. Yesterday there were upwards of 700 calls received. This morning - despite a technical problem with the help-line which was resolved within 90 minutes - there have been 300 calls as of 1pm.

"The CervicalCheck Programme would like to apologise to those women who were trying to contact the help-line between 9am and 1030am. The service provider has earlier apologised to the CervicalCheck for this technical problem."

Update 10.49am: CervicalCheck's helpline is up and running following an earlier technical glitch.

Update 9.13am: The launch of a helpline for anybody with concerns about the cervical screening programme has been hit with technical issues.

Health Minister Simon Harris announced the helpline was due to open at 9am this morning.

However, calls to the helpline shortly after the planned launch were met with a message stating it was only open between Monday and Friday.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said they are working to fix the issue as soon as possible.

Minister Harris admitted it was the "last thing anyone needed".

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith and Catherine Shanahan

Senior health service officials have been ordered to identify and inform within the next 48 hours the 206 women who were wrongly told they did not have cervical cancer, amid fears over the fallout from the scandal.

Health Minister Simon Harris confirmed he has sent an incident team in to the CervicalCheck cancer service to “take charge of the situation” as he admitted he does not have confidence in existing managers to perform their duties.

Vicky and Jim Phelan, pictured with their solicitor, Cian O Carroll leaving the Four Courts on Tuesday. Pic: Collins Courts.
Vicky and Jim Phelan, pictured with their solicitor, Cian O Carroll leaving the Four Courts on Tuesday. Pic: Collins Courts.

Speaking as the HSE refused to say if any of the 206 women whose cervical cancer was not identified have died or have now been diagnosed with terminal cancer, Mr Harris said he wants any victim of what happened to be identified as a matter of urgency.

And, while the HSE was last night drawing up the draft terms for an external review, Mr Harris said he has ordered senior officials to identify this weekend all 206 women affected, and start contacting them by Monday due to growing public fears over the scandal.

“I’ve sent a senior team in to CervicalCheck to take charge of the situation.

“They’ll be reviewing the charts over the weekend, and appointments will be offered to any woman who may not have been told, starting on Monday.

“Women who have cervical cancer and who are worried and asking ‘was I not informed’, they will be hearing in the early stages of next week of an appointment to meet with a clinician face- to-face,” Mr Harris told RTÉ’s Six One News, adding he was only informed that 206 cases were involved by media reports yesterday.

The senior incident management team sent into CervicalCheck is led by HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry and HSE director of quality assurance Dr Patrick Lynch.

They and other officials began speaking with hospitals nationwide last night and have been told to identify all 206 women involved in the scandal by tomorrow night.

Mr Harris told reporters yesterday that while he still has confidence in the “life-saving” CervicalCheck system, he “truthfully” cannot say he has confidence in those in charge.

Speaking after CervicalCheck clinical director Gráinne Flannelly said she did not know if all 206 women had been contacted, Mr Harris said: “I have full confidence in the screening system... but truthfully, I can’t say that I do currently [have confidence in senior managers], that’s why I’ve ordered the review.”

While Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he wants to wait until the end of the external review before passing judgement, pressure on CervicalCheck managers increased last night amid opposition anger over the lack of clarity on the issue.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he found it “genuinely amazing and very disconcerting that at this stage of the growing cervical smear scandal, we cannot get a straight answer from the minister or the HSE on how many women are affected”.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald demanded women affected be told immediately.

Noting the case of Limerick mother Vicky Phelan, 43, whose €2.5m High Court settlement this week after receiving an incorrect all- clear before developing terminal cancer led to the crisis being uncovered, Ms McDonald said: “We need answers without delay. Were there fatalities among the 206 women; are there other Vicky Phelans out there?”

Ms Phelan, who was contacted by Mr Harris yesterday in a private phonecall, said she was shocked to learn 206 other women were affected.

“I really didn’t think there would be more than 40 or 50,” she said.

Criticising Ms Flannery, she said it is unacceptable “she still can’t say whether all of these women have been contacted — to me that is totally unacceptable”.

An HSE spokesperson last night refused to say if any of the 206 women have died or developed terminal cancer since receiving incorrect cancer all-clears.

“We would not have any information regarding the question,” the spokesperson said.

Digital Desk

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