Latest: HSE say 181 of the 208 women affected by cervical smear controversy have been contacted

Update 9pm: The HSE has contacted 181 of the 208 women affected by the cervical smear controversy, it has emerged tonight.

The 208 women were those whose smear test audits revealed a different result.

The HSE is also continuing to examine another 1,500 cervical cancer cases that were not audited.

RTE are also reporting tonight that over 7,500 calls have been received by the CervicalCheck helpline since Saturday.

The HSE said the priority for call-backs will be women with specific clinical queries, or a history of cervical cancer.

Update 5pm: Man says his sister was one of 17 women who died after CervicalCheck false negative

A man who spoke on national radio today has said he believes his sister is one of the 17 women who died following false negatives in the CervicalCheck controversy.

John told Joe Duffy on RTE's about his sister, who died in June 2016. John said he believes she is in the cohort of 17 women who died, but he doesn't know for sure. He added that before she died of cervical cancer she was told she had had tests which missed the diagnosis.

The first test caught the abnormal changes but his sister never received the results. She had false negatives in the 10 years before her diagnosis, and died 11 months after her diagnosis.

John believes she is one of the 17 women who died and he thinks she is one of two women who died knowing that their cancer had been missed through screening.

His sister was diagnosed with PTSD before she died. She initiated legal action before she died and her husband is currently pursuing the case.

John's father was on the same cancer ward as his sister. On the day she went unresponsive, his father went into ICU and the family were unable tell him how ill she had become. He was gravely ill but he came through and was admitted back out on to the cancer ward, where John had to tell him his sister was dead.

John said his father went into shock and was diagnosed with "complicated grief", which is when grief has a physical effect. "He started to curl up," John said, and died one month after John's sister.

Update 4.05pm: A cancer charity has accused health chiefs of "significant mixed messaging" on the cervical cancer screening scandal as the Chief Medical Officer confirmed the tests are 99% reliable.

Donal Buggy, of the Irish Cancer Society, said women in Ireland feel "confusion, concern, frustration and fear" after it emerged that women with the disease were not told about wrongly interpreted smear results.

He was speaking at a press conference in Dublin convened by Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan aimed at giving a clear message to women concerned about their tests and potential cancer risk.

Professor Donal Buggy, from the Health Service Executive (HSE) clinical expert panel. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

At the start of the week it was revealed that an audit by CervicalCheck - the national screening programme - of 1,482 women diagnosed with cervical cancer since 2008 had found potential errors in 208 cases, as tests showed no abnormality when they should have been given a cancer warning.

The majority of the 208 women - 162 - were not initially told of the outcome of the audit. Of the 208, 17 have since died.

It has since emerged that a further 1,518 women with the cancer in the same period have not been audited but health chiefs stress the number affected by potential errors in this group is likely to be lower.

Senior health figures remained unable to give numbers on Thursday for the second group on how many women have since been audited, found to have potential test errors or contacted regarding this but said this work is ongoing.

Mr Buggy said: "I am here this morning following a week of confusion, concern, frustration and fear for very many women right around Ireland.

"There has been significant mixed messaging and that's something I feel we need to get right and needs to stop today."

Professor Donal Brennan, Dr Jerome Coffey and Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan from the Health Service Executive (HSE) clinical expert panel. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

He said he wanted clarity for the 3,000 women diagnosed with cervical cancer in the past 10 years and for women involved in the screening programme who had been given negative results.

"No women will be reassured by an investigation, a commission or a political conversation this weekend. They need to have clear information."

Under questioning, Dr Holohan agreed that the screening programme was 99% reliable, with National Cancer Control Programme director Dr Jerome Coffey saying there is a "tiny proportion" of false negatives - less than one in 100.

Dr Holohan said: "The evidence that we have before us is not evidence of a clinical failure in relation to the programme.

"It's not evidence that people who have been through the programme can have less confidence in what the programme has said about their result."

He said people with normal smears have no need for an emergency repeat test but will be given one after contact with their GP if wished.

Meanwhile, Health Service Executive director-general Tony O'Brien is to take temporary leave of absence from the board of a US company he joined earlier this year.

Tony O'Brien

In the Dail, deputy prime minister Joan Burton confronted Health Minister Simon Harris.

She said: "At a time when women are really, really hurting ... to most women this is just extraordinary that the CEO would be allowed by you as minister or the previous minister to take a second lucrative appointment."

Mr Harris said the contract allowed the health service chief, who has faced calls to step down immediately ahead of his planned contract end in summer, to take up employment, where the minister sanctions it, if for less than five hours a month.

He added: "Quite rightly, considering the very important issues you highlight for women's health and the need for him to focus on that absolutely exclusively for the remaining few weeks of his term, he has appropriately taken a leave of absence."

Tanaiste Simon Coveney said Mr O'Brien would be focused on contributing in a positive manner to the work needed to put the problems right.

"I think that is the appropriate course of action."


Earlier: Simon Coveney speaks to man whose wife died after getting incorrect smear tests results

By Elaine Loughlin

Latest 1.10pm: Simon Coveney speaks to man whose wife died after getting incorrect smear tests results

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has spoken to the husband of one of the 17 women who died after receiving false negative smear tests results.

Describing the controversy as "a disgraceful breach of trust between thousands of women and the State" Mr Coveney told the Dáil he had been contacted by the widower this morning who he said is "is very angry".

"And I don't blame him. He has been contacted by the HSE but he needs a more detailed meeting and that is happening this evening."

Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary pointed out that just two of the 17 women who who died after getting clear smear tests were not told of different results found in an audit before their death.

He said it has now been eight days since the CervicalCheck scandal emerged through Vicky Phelan's case however, 26 women involved have yet to be contacted and thousands of women who rang a helpline have yet to receive a call back.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Calleary said there is "worry, concern and anger across the county" however, there is still "no sense of urgency" in providing answers.

Calling on HSE director general to resign, Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty said: "Either someone is held to account or the usual pattern of unaccountability continues year after year, scandal after scandal and this simply can't happen.

"Women some of whom are cancer patients, some of whom are dead or dying were denied information about their health because of the failures of those responsible in our health service."

He added: "We don't need an inquiry to know that 15 women went to their graves without that information.

"People have died without the information they were entitled to," he said.

But Mr Coveney argued that Mr O'Brien only has 12 weeks left in his contract and suggested it would be better for him to focus on "providing as much information as possible and putting systems in place that can cooperate fully with the independent investigation."

"Rather than actually looking for heads we are trying to look for the truth and establish facts."

He said the departure of Mr O'Brien "of course it would give the impression of immediate accountability" the facts must be ascertained and Mr O'Brien has committed to help in that process.

The Tánaiste confirmed that Mr O'Brien is to take a leave of absence from the board of a US healthcare company to focus on the cancer scandal.

Mr Coveney said: "Everybody agrees now that there needs to be a statutory inquiry into this issue, it needs to be as transparent and as public as possible but we do need a scoping exercise to make sure that we have a deeper understanding of the facts and what transpired."

He said this scoping exercise which hopefully can be completed by the end of next month would allow for an appropriate terms of reference to be put in place.

9am: Vicky Phelan calls for 'urgent' public Commission of Investigation into CervicalSmear scandal

Vicky Phelan has called for a Commission of Investigation to be held into the CervicalSmear scandal that is "urgent and prompt" but also public.

In a Tweet addressed to Leo Varadkar, Simon Harris and RTE 1's Morning Ireland programme, Ms Phelan said: "As the woman who exposed this scandal, I want to see a Commission of Investigation that is both urgent and prompt but also public. Too much has already happened behind closed doors."

She went on to call for the resignation of HSE boss Tony O'Brien, who she said had shown "nothing but arrogance" and who was "more concerned with defending the indefensible than doing the right thing".

Ms Phelan brought the controversy to light when she launched legal proceedings in the High Court after it emerged her smear test which showed no abnormalities was later found to be incorrect.

8.30am: Government to make decision on inquiry into CervicalSmear scandal

The Government is due to make a decision on an of inquiry into the CervicalCheck scandal.

It's expected a preliminary scoping inquiry will take place first to get immediate answers, potentially followed by a Commission of Investigation, into the cervical smear controversy. An international expert is likely to lead the inquiry.

The Minister for Health Simon Harris consulted with other political parties last night after officials from the Department of Health, the HSE and CervicalCheck addressed an Oireachtas committee yesterday.

There was some dispute among officials as to how successful the screening programme is.

There was a general consensus among opposition TDs that a HIQA inquiry wouldn't be good enough, but also fears that a Commission of Investigation could take years to complete.

The HSE continues to make contact with women affected by the controversy, including those who had audits carried out on their smear tests. The HSE will also examine the cases of at least 1,500 other women whose cases were not audited.

- Digital Desk

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