Cancer scandal: 48 hours to inform women

Senior health service officials have been ordered to identify and inform within the next 48 hours the 206 women who were wrongly told they did not have cervical cancer, amid fears over the fallout from the scandal.

Cancer scandal: 48 hours to inform women

Health Minister Simon Harris confirmed he has sent an incident team in to the CervicalCheck cancer service to “take charge of the situation” as he admitted he does not have confidence in existing managers to perform their duties.

Speaking as the HSE refused to say if any of the 206 women whose cervical cancer was not identified have died or have now been diagnosed with terminal cancer, Mr Harris said he wants any victim of what happened to be identified as a matter of urgency.

And, while the HSE was last night drawing up the draft terms for an external review, Mr Harris said he has ordered senior officials to identify this weekend all 206 women affected, and start contacting them by Monday due to growing public fears over the scandal.

“I’ve sent a senior team in to CervicalCheck to take charge of the situation.

“They’ll be reviewing the charts over the weekend, and appointments will be offered to any woman who may not have been told, starting on Monday.

“Women who have cervical cancer and who are worried and asking ‘was I not informed’, they will be hearing in the early stages of next week of an appointment to meet with a clinician face- to-face,” Mr Harris told RTÉ’s Six One News, adding he was only informed that 206 cases were involved by media reports yesterday.

The senior incident management team sent into CervicalCheck is led by HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry and HSE director of quality assurance Dr Patrick Lynch.

They and other officials began speaking with hospitals nationwide last night and have been told to identify all 206 women involved in the scandal by tomorrow night.

Mr Harris told reporters yesterday that while he still has confidence in the “life-saving” CervicalCheck system, he “truthfully” cannot say he has confidence in those in charge.

Speaking after CervicalCheck clinical director Gráinne Flannelly said she did not know if all 206 women had been contacted, Mr Harris said: “I have full confidence in the screening system... but truthfully, I can’t say that I do currently [have confidence in senior managers], that’s why I’ve ordered the review.”

CervicalCheck clinical director Grainne Flannelly
CervicalCheck clinical director Grainne Flannelly

While Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he wants to wait until the end of the external review before passing judgement, pressure on CervicalCheck managers increased last night amid opposition anger over the lack of clarity on the issue.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he found it “genuinely amazing and very disconcerting that at this stage of the growing cervical smear scandal, we cannot get a straight answer from the minister or the HSE on how many women are affected”.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald demanded women affected be told immediately.

Noting the case of Limerick mother Vicky Phelan, 43, whose €2.5m High Court settlement this week after receiving an incorrect all- clear before developing terminal cancer led to the crisis being uncovered, Ms McDonald said: “We need answers without delay. Were there fatalities among the 206 women; are there other Vicky Phelans out there?”

Ms Phelan, who was contacted by Mr Harris yesterday in a private phonecall, said she was shocked to learn 206 other women were affected.

“I really didn’t think there would be more than 40 or 50,” she said.

Criticising Ms Flannery, she said it is unacceptable “she still can’t say whether all of these women have been contacted — to me that is totally unacceptable”.

An HSE spokesperson last night refused to say if any of the 206 women have died or developed terminal cancer since receiving incorrect cancer all-clears.

“We would not have any information regarding the question,” the spokesperson said.

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