The interim head of screening at the National Screening Service has written to women caught up in the CervicalCheck scandal outlining what they can expect if they sign up to an ex gratia scheme — but patient representatives said the main reaction was one of disappointment.
In her letter to 221 women, or to their estates in cases where the women have died, Frances McNamara says that while the process “is not intended to be adversarial”, women who wish to consult a solicitor can avail of an allowance of €1,500 plus VAT, payable on a vouched basis.
Ms McNamara also outlines how:
The women are asked to apply by May 30 “if possible” and, where successful in their claim, payments will be made by the Department of Health directly into their bank accounts.
The scheme is open to 221 women who were not told their screening histories were part of a CervicalCheck audit or that the audit showed smear test results at odds with what was originally reported.
Last night, Lorraine Walsh, a patient representative on the Government-appointed CervicalCheck steering committee, said the reaction among women she had spoken to was one of widespread disappointment.
“How do we sign up to a scheme when we don’t know what’s involved?” she said.
“Once you sign up, you are in, and everyone gets the same payment. But we don’t know what that payment is.”
Ms Walsh said the Department of Health had drawn up the scheme and presented it as a fait accompli, only showing it to patient representatives when it was already “signed and sealed”.
She said they would like to have seen an apology to the women included in the scheme and it was “a missed opportunity”.
Ms Walsh also questioned the offer of a €1,500 allowance, saying the Government had still not agreed to cover the €2,000 cost of independent reviews of smear tests of women caught up in the scandal, putting families under huge financial pressure.
Ms Walsh and Stephen Teap, also a member of the steering committee, whose wife Irene died of cervical cancer after two misread smears, said they had raised the need to fund the independent reviews at every meeting of the steering committee, only to be continually told it is under review.
They said families are paying in the region of €2,000 for an independent review to determine if errors in previous smear results were due to the limitations of screening or negligence.
“If you are in the middle of cancer treatment and you have a mortgage and kids, having to fork out €2,000 upfront is putting a lot of people under financial pressure,” Mr Teap said.
“There are loads of women not working, with young children who can’t afford it and therefore possibly won’t ask for an independent review,” said Ms Walsh.
In a statement, the Department of Health said a request has been made “that the costs of private medico-legal reviews of cytology smear tests for women/families in the 221 cohort should be met by the State”.
“As has previously been advised to the CervicalCheck Steering Committee, a submission made to the Minister [Simon Harris] by the Department on this issue is being kept under review.”