HSE boss O’Brien was told of CervicalCheck audit PR plan

HSE boss Tony O’Brien saw three memos as far back as early 2016 which confirmed a process was underway to tell women about their misdiagnosis and also to inform him a “communications protocol” was in place.

“A Communications protocol has been prepared for consulting clinicians to address their questions,” the memo said.

One memo from March 2016 outlined there “is always the risk that in communicating individual case reports to clinicians of an individual patient reacting by contacting the media if they feel that ‘screening did not diagnose my cancer’”.

But the memo did state that “no systematic quality problem of concern has been identified” in an audit of the smears.

Mr O’Brien was also told that one of the cytology laboratories had sought legal advice into the right of the programme to communicate audit outcomes. “The programme is liaising with legal team on this,” the memo states.

But most alarming, the memo advises a stopping of communications to the doctors of patients until legal advice returns.

Next steps: pause all letters... Await advice of solicitors... Decide on the order and volume of dispatch to mitigate any potential risks... continue to prepare reactive communications response for a media headline that ‘screening did not diagnose my cancer’.

One memo from CervicalCheck to Mr O’Brien, dating from July 2016, said the service would be making the results known to the clinicians looking after individual women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

“Given the volume of letters that will be issuing over the coming weeks, it is possible that individual cases could appear in the public domain,” the memo warned.

“This is a risk that is inherent in having a clinical audit process as part of the national programme. The clinical audit process will continue to generate case reports from here on,” the memo stated.

In the documents, released to the Public Accounts Committee and obtained by the Irish Examiner, the HSE was advised in March 2016 that there was a risk patients may start contacting media outlets to say screening did not diagnose their cancer.

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