Cancer tests inquiry hits out at delays

The CervicalCheck scoping inquiry has been severely hampered by the failure of state bodies to supply it with legible documentation, leading to accusations of deliberate obstruction.

It has emerged that a “significant proportion” of 4,000 documents — the vast majority only supplied to the inquiry team in the past week — are unsearchable, and in some cases, difficult to read.

Requests for information were made by the inquiry to the HSE, the Department of Health, the State Claims Agency and the National Cancer Registry.

Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died in 2015 after two CervicalCheck smear tests produced false negatives, said the agencies were “completely incompetent or using deliberate tactics”. 

He said Gabriel Scally, who leads the probe, had been “paperbombed, to bury him, just before he was about to produce his preliminary report”.

Dr Scally says in his report that he wants an explanation as to why scanned versions of documents were sent to the inquiry rather than the original electronic format, as scanning made them “non-searchable and, in some cases, difficult to read”.

He said this was “disappointing” and it was “unclear” why it had been done.

Mr Teap, from Carrigaline, Co Cork, said Dr Scally was “a victim of the HSE’s slow returns policy”, as he had been.

The National Women’s Council (NWC) said that, given “the significant distress caused to women over the past months”, it was calling on health authorities “to be fully forthcoming in the provision of documents to the inquiry team”.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said it was” outrageous and inexcusable”.

The NWC also endorsed Dr Scally’s recommendation, in his first progress report, published yesterday, that resources be provided so that “suitably qualified individuals” can hold structured conversations with every woman affected by the CervicalCheck scandal, who wishes to have her experience documented.

Dr Scally said he had read the report of Justice John Quirke into the Magdalene Laundries and “the views of the women in question, whose needs had been ignored for so long, was crucial to resolving serious issues”.

Dr Scally said this process should begin as soon as reasonably possible and could follow the processes developed by Mr Justice Quirke.

He also recommended that Mr Harris offer an immediate ex gratia payment to each woman affected and to the next of kin of the deceased.

Mr Harris said payments of €2,000 would be made and that a process would begin to record the women’s stories.

Mr Harris also accepted the recommendations that CervicalCheck:

  • Provide a more comprehensive guide to its screening programme online;
  • That information statements provided to women about the limitations of the tests be more explicit;
  • That information for women accompanying the consent form should guarantee full access to their cervical screening record on request, as well as guaranteeing open disclosure of all the details “in a timely, considerate and accurate manner” should there be a problem with the screening.

The HSE said that, in the initial document discovery phase and given the short timescales involved, there was a focus on trying to ensure documents were issued as quickly as possible.

“This may have contributed to an increase in the number of documents being scanned and provided in a different manner than was ultimately required,” said the HSE in a statement.

“However, our senior managers involved in this process will meet Dr Scally’s team as soon as possible to address the concerns and alleviate the issues raised.”

Dr Scally said given the volume and complexity of the work of the inquiry, it would not be completed until the end of the summer. The inquiry was established in the wake of a public outcry in relation to the case of terminally ill Limerick woman Vicky Phelan.

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