Up to 200 women who later developed cervical cancer had the same missed smear test as Vicky Phelan, it was admitted last night.
In the wake of the Phelan case, Health Minister Simon Harris yesterday ordered Cervical Check to write to the doctors of the women to ensure they communicated the error, where cancer indicators were missed.
Health Minister Simon Harris has said that up to 15 women a year since 2008 should have had their cases escalated in the wake of a smear test but did not.
Mr Harris and Tánaiste Simon Coveney apologised to Ms Phelan for the abject failure in informing her of her condition.
Mr Coveney said: “This is a shameful series of events, particularly in terms of information flow. The tragedy and challenges Vicky Phelan and her family are facing now have been made all the more difficult because of the failings in terms of the passing on of information. And for that I want to apologise to her and to her family.”
Mr Harris said the doctors in all of these cases would have been informed of the misdiagnosis but the letters are to ensure patients are told.
“What we know is that, since 2016, doctors have been receiving the results of the audits in relation to the smear tests of their patients,” he said.
“It is absolutely essential that we establish that those doctors told their patients of the outcomes of those audits. Today, Cervical Check will write to those doctors and ask those doctors to confirm that they have informed their patients.”
To date, since the screening programme began a decade ago, there have been 3m scans performed and a total of 1,400 confirmed diagnoses of cervical cancer.
Responding to the public outcry following Ms Phelan’s €2.5m settlement with the company which examined her smear, Mr Harris said the doctors would be called on to ensure all women affected were told if they have not been already.
Secondly, he announced a new policy to ensure patients are told about such mistakes in a timely fashion automatically, as opposed to leaving it to the discretion of the doctor.
Ms Phelan was diagnosed with cancer three years after her smear test results of 2011 were incorrectly reported as clear of abnormalities.
By the time she had another smear test in 2014, she had cervical cancer.
Ms Phelan, of Carrigeen, Annacotty, Co Limerick, along with her husband, Jim Phelan, has sued the HSE and Clinical Pathology Laboratories Inc, Austin, Texas, over the smear test taken under CervicalCheck and analysed in a US laboratory. She was given six to 12 months to live in January this year.
The case was raised in Dáil during leaders’ questions.
Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary asked: “What will change as a result of what we know now as a consequence of the bravery and courage of Vicky Phelan?”
In response, Mr Coveney said there will be changes as a result of what has happened.
He also stressed the importance of maintaining confidence in the national cervical cancer screening service.
Two separate investigations are to be launched into the circumstances of how Ms Phelan was not told of her mis-diagnosis for three years.
Mr Harris has said an external review is to be conducted by the director general of the HSE.
“I envisage the review will be external, I envisage it will involve international expertise but I will ask the DG to further clarify that,” he said.
“But I think what we should do with our screening programme, we should look to ensure we are following absolute best international practice.”
Meanwhile, the Public Accounts Committee is to investigate any potential breach in policy and financial loss to the taxpayer because of the mishandling of the Phelan case. The Dáil’s spending watchdog is to write to the HSE, the Department of Health and CervicalCheck to examine what happened in the Phelan case.