Minister announces review of CervicalCheck programme after Vicky Phelan case

The Health Minister Simon Harris has announced a review of the Cervical Check programme following the results of a court case.

Terminally ill Vicky Phelan settled a case yesterday after being wrongly informed she had the all-clear in 2011.

It also took three years for an audit of her test to be passed on to her.

The Irish Cancer Society says it believes at least 14 other woman were affected by the review.

Cervical Check is writing to doctors today to make sure they have told patients the results of the audits of their smear tests.

The Minister says in future women should be automatically told of any review of their checks.

Mr Harris also says the scheme needs to be reviewed, saying: "We need people to have absolute confidence in our screening programmes and I have confidence in it, it is a programme that saves lives.

"But it is a programme that is 10 years old this year and I think, therefore, that it is appropriate that we review it and I have asked the Director General of the HSE to review the operation of CervicalCheck against best international practice."

The Irish Cancer Society welcomed the move by the Minister saying the review "must happen as soon as possible".

The charity released a statement saying: "The Irish Cancer Society is fully supportive of the CervicalCheck programme, which is truly-life saving. This is the best available measure we have at our disposal to detecting cervical cancer early and has helped reduce the cervical cancer rate nationally at a rate of 7% per year. Combined with the HPV vaccine, there is an opportunity to all but eradicate cervical cancer in the decades ahead.

"The Society has full confidence in the service, which we expect will progress from smear to HPV testing as a first-line test in the near future. This will further reduce the risk of cervical cancer and improve identification of the risk of cervical cell abnormalities.

We must acknowledge that there will never be a health service without some degree of human error and that no diagnostic test or screening service is 100% reliable, but what should be the number one priority for all aspects of the health service is the patient and their care.

In the case of Vicky Phelan, the Irish Cancer Society is deeply concerned that it took three years to notify her of missed abnormalities in her initial screen.

"This represents a breakdown in communication. No woman should have to wait this long for information relevant to their care.

"The health service needs to display candour in situations such as these. Recent months have seen a number of examples of poor communication around cancer misdiagnoses or missed abnormalities. This suggests that unless further change is forthcoming, a duty of candour for state bodies needs to be put on a statutory footing, so that patients get the information relevant to them and to stop the same problems happening again and again."

They said that the HSE and the National Screening Service must learn from the case and carry out a review of the service.

They said: "An external review needs to take place to make sure that processes for communicating information about missed abnormalities or missed diagnoses are put in place, and that the responsibility for who must do that is made absolutely clear.

"This must be a prompt, responsive and unambiguous system, whereby all women are who find themselves in such a situation are communicated with, in line with their expressed wishes.

"We welcome comments from Dr. Gráinne Flannelly, Clinical Director of CervicalCheck, that the service accepts the need for such an external review, and this must happen as soon as possible.

"The Irish Cancer Society accepts mistakes happen in a service that cannot provide 100% protection, but further, potentially devastating harm can be caused when information that is clearly pertinent to the patient is not communicated."

- Digital Desk

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