Solicitor representing CervicalCheck victims: Smear audit halted ‘for no reason’

Solicitor, Cian O Carroll pictured speaking to the media outside the Four Courts after a High Court action.Picture: Collins Courts

A solicitor representing CervicalCheck victims has questioned if halting the smear test audit a year ago was an attempt to “put a lid” on the number of women affected by the scandal.

Cian O’Carroll said the audit was halted “for no good reason” after it emerged that more than 200 women with cervical cancer were not told that a review of their smear histories found they were incorrectly given the all-clear.

“The audit stopped last April for no good reason,” he said. “I can’t see why. If you wanted to put a lid on the 221 women affected, you would stop the audit.”

As up to 300 women develop cervical cancer in Ireland each year, Mr O’Carroll said there were now women who had developed the disease in the past 12 months whose smear histories were not being audited. They had no way of knowing if previous test results were incorrect, he said.

“They are not getting the benefit of the truth and they are not benefiting from supports,” he said.

Women in the group of 221 can avail of State supports.

He said there was potentially “a body of error yet to manifest itself, which is an upsetting message for women”.

A client of Mr O’Carroll, a Cork mother of two who is terminally ill, yesterday settled her legal action over the alleged misinterpretation of her CervicalCheck smear slide.

In a statement through her solicitor, she said she was left with no choice but to go to court.

The woman, who is in her 40s, has Stage 4 invasive cancer and has been given a life expectancy of 12 to 22 months.

The settlement of the action taken by herself and her husband is against a US laboratory in Austin, Texas which tested her smear slide in 2010 and reported it as negative.

The woman was given the news that she had cervical cancer just a few days before Christmas 2015 and told the court she was crying while putting her children’s presents under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve 2015.

She suffered a cancer recurrence two years later and in September last year was told her cancer is operable.

In her statement, the woman said: “We all heard declarations that no woman would have to go to court and that all the women caught up in this scandal would get support. We were under the illusion that this would happen but it was just that — an illusion.”

Last May, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said no woman caught up in the CervicalCheck cancer screening scandal would have to go to court.

He subsequently said everyone had the right to go to court.

Mr O’Carroll’s client questioned why her case was not included in the CervicalCheck audit. Mr O’Carroll said his firm knew of another four women in a similar situation to his client’s who had also not being included in the audit.

The HSE said in a statement that the Scally Report had “identified gaps” in hospitals notifying CervicalCheck of cervical cancer cases and that “unfortunately, as a result, the CervicalCheck audit was not aware of many women who had developed cervical cancer”.

In relation to the decision to halt the audit process, the HSE said while Dr Scally had found the audit was established with “laudable aims”, the planning, governance and documentation were inadequate.

Dr Scally made a specific recommendation that audits should be an important component of cervical screening based on good clinical practice.

The HSE said: “As a result, the HSE established an expert group to design the audit process.

“The work of this group continues and once complete, will report on recommendations for the revised audit process. This will take a number of months.”

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