Latest: It was wrong that Vicky Phelan was dragged through the courts, says Health Minister

Update 7.08pm: Health Minister Simon Harris has said he hopes to establish tomorrow if all those affected by the cervical smear controversy have been informed.

However, he does not know how many women may have died and said everyone who has had a smear test could have a re-check if they wanted it.

Speaking on RTÉ's The Week In Politics programme, Mr Harris also described as "wrong" the treatment of Vicky Phelan, the terminally ill mother whose legal battle cast light on the issue.

He said: "It is wrong that any terminally ill woman would be dragged through the courts."

Earlier this week, Ms Phelan, a 43-year-old mother of two from Co Limerick, settled a High Court action for €2.5m after being incorrectly told in 2011 that her smear test had given a negative result for cancer.

In 2014, she was diagnosed with cancer but only told of the false negative last September.

Mr Harris said he would "not be found wanting" in changing the system.

He added: "One of the reasons it went to the courts was because Vicky wasn't told what she had a right to be told years ago and I am going to make sure that never happens again.

"We need to change the law."

The Minister also spoke about plans to offer free retests for women who have had CervicalCheck smear tests and whose GP feels further testing would provide reassurance.

Speaking on RTÉ, Minister Harris said: "I made the decision yesterday that any woman that is at home today and is worried - 'I had a smear test, should I have a repeat smear test?' - they'd normally have to wait..."

"How could they not be worried?" said presenter Aine Lawlor. "Does that mean every woman who's had a smear test is entitled to have it redone at the moment?"

"Absolutely," said Minister Harris. "And this is a very important message. Any woman today who needs a smear test, that repeat smear test will be paid for by the state, as will the cost of going to the doctor."

An unpublished audit of cervical checks discovered in 2014 found that 206 women with cervical cancer who had undergone smear tests should have received earlier intervention.

The Minister has already announced a number of actions including a major review and set up a helpline for those who fear they may be affected by the controversy.

He said the screening programme had saved lives, but that it would be "arrogant" and "complacent" to suggest it could not be improved.

On Saturday, Dr Grainne Flannelly, the clinical director of CervicalCheck, announced she was stepping down and apologised for any distress and worry caused to women.

Update 4.04pm: Labour Party criticises lack of clarity around Cervical Check controversy

The Labour Party has said that it is "unacceptable" that it is still not known if the women affected by the Cervical Check controversy have been contacted.

The comment comes after reports a number of women have died in the wake of the scandal.

The HSE says it will not be in a position to give full details until a review, being carried out this weekend, is complete,

Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin says the situation is wholly and completely unacceptable.

"The shocking disclosure that there are potentially a number of women who have died - we don't know had they ever been contacted - there are other tests where people have been given reassurances that there was nothing to worry about, and that subsequently those tests were shown to be suspect, and they haven't been contacted yet, or at least we don't know if they've been contacted or not yet," he said.

"What's wholly and completely unacceptable."

Earlier: Health Minister doesn't know how many women have died since getting incorrect smear test results

The Health Minister Simon Harris cannot say how many women have died after receiving incorrect smear test results.

Terminally ill woman Vicky Phelan, who won a High Court action last week, has said she was told that at least three women who had earlier got an all-clear smear result have since died.

"If Vicky Phelan hadn't done what Vicky Phelan has done we wouldn't know and I wouldn't know what we now know," Mr Harris admitted.

The HSE are currently reviewing the cases of 206 women who may have been given false negative results by the national cervical cancer screening programme.

Speaking this afternoon, Mr Harris said he "truthfully doesn't know" how many women have died after developing cervical cancer despite the all-clear from CervicalCheck programme adding: "I am not going to get into making glib comments that I cannot stand over here.

"I have sent in a senior team to CervicalCheck, they have pulled the files of all 206 women, these are women that would have been in 15 different hospitals around the country, a lot of different clinicians."

He said this team has been asked to find out if each of these women were told about the discrepancies.

He said: "I will know that by tomorrow and we will then immediately make arrangements for any woman who needs follow-up or wasn't told to meet a clinician."

Mr Harris has vowed that "no stone will remain unturned" and is to establish an international independent review team to carry out a "root and branch" examination of the cervical cancer screening system.

Mr Harris said he had not been aware that other women were involved when he was first told about Ms Phelan's case as it neared an end last week.

"I got an information note that told me there was a legal process underway and that a women who had been diagnosed with cervical cancer was taking a case, that she had smear test in 2011 that had given her effectively the all-clear.

"Then in 2014 she had another smear test which showed that this wasn't the case and that she was now taking action against the lab and the HSE.

At no stage was any flag raised that there were any other women involved in this as well, this was an information note about one case.

He said he does not want to see any other women having to go to court over the issue.

"I don't want to see the Government or the State or the HSE in court against these women.

"We are going to ensure that no woman ever finds herself in Vicky Phelan's place again," he told RTÉ's the Week in Politics.


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