The man tasked with examining the failings of CervicalCheck has criticised the current system for responding to errors in screening as “inadequate”.
Gabriel Scally said the said the legal processes currently in place “convert error into injustice and then convert that injustice into financial remedy”.
Publishing his supplementary report to the Scoping Inquiry into the CervicalCheck Screening Programme yesterday, Dr Scally said the legal processes are “traumatic and filled with uncertainty for the person at the centre of the legal action and for their family”.
Dr Scally said access to legal action often required significant financial commitment before it could even be initiated and constituted “a major financial barrier for some of the women and families concerned” when their principal aim was “simply to find out the truth of what happened to them and their slides”.
“Public health programmes, such as screening and immunisation are, in my professional view, entirely suitable for the introduction of a no-fault compensation scheme,” he said.
The women Dr Scally is referring to are those who took part in the CervicalCheck national screening service and who developed cervical cancer. Their screening histories were subsequently audited but they were not told about the audit. In at least 221 cases, women were also not told that the audit results were at odds with their original smear test results, potentially affecting treatment and outcomes.
Further cases are expected to emerge when the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) completes its review of more than 1,700 smear histories later this year.
Yesterday, the 221+ patient support group, which represents the women and their families, called on the Government to put a time frame on when legislation for a tribunal mechanism that could be an alternative to the High Court for terminally ill patients will be up and running.
A number of women whose smear tests were incorrectly read and who went on to develop cervical cancer have gone to court to sue the HSE and the laboratories reading their smears.
An ex-gratia scheme set up by the Government is designed to compensate the 221 who were not told about the audit or its results. However, the 221+ group said it was established “without reference to those affected and their needs”.
In addition, despite verbal assurances of reimbursement, “many women have been forced to personally fund a third-party review of slides which is necessary to determine whether negligence was involved in the reading of their slides”, said the group.
It said they are still waiting for an apology from those directly responsible for the CervicalCheck scandal, but that they would continue to work with the HSE and the Department of Health to ensure a more positive future for Ireland’s screening programme.
The HSE said it had made a number of improvements including appointing a National Laboratory Quality Assurance Lead to Cervical Check — “a new post that will provide significant expertise and assurance to monitoring quality of laboratory services”.
It has also introduced a new pre-quality assurance inspection visit questionnaire to strengthen quality assurance visits.
Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said: “Everything that can be done, must be done to ensure that women have confidence in the cervical check programme and that they engage with it.”