The lead clinical director of Breastcheck, the country’s breast cancer screening service, says that comments by a judge in relation to screening services are a cause for concern.
Judge Kevin Cross this week said that screeners should not give the all clear unless they have "absolute confidence" that a sample is clear.
Anne O'Doherty told Newstalk Breakfast that the public needs to have absolute confidence in all screening programmes, but they also need to realise that no screening service is 100% accurate.
“There are inherent failure rates. We will miss two in every 1,000 screenings.”
She said that no matter how good the service and its equipment or the training of the staff, a small number of cases will be due to human error.
There will be a failure rate as there isn’t a perfect system, she said.
We can’t detect all cancers. Our goal is to reduce the number of women dying.
Ms O’Doherty, who is a consultant radiologist, pointed out that one of the central aspects of any screening programme is that screening has to be cost-effective.
If the cost of screening and litigation makes it not economical then the money should be spent on helping people who are already diagnosed.
“We need to make sure the public understands the limits of screening.”
She warned that the service will not be able to recruit radiologists if there is a fear of litigation. “People go into medicine to help people, not with the intent of spending weeks and weeks in the courts.”
It is not possible to have any screening service that would offer ‘absolute confidence’ in diagnosing any disease, she added.
Earlier: Senior HSE staff propose halting screening programmes
Senior health service staff this week proposed halting all four of the State's screening programmes.
The proposal was made in response to last week's High Court Judgement in the Ruth Morrissey case.
The call to halt the service was made at a meeting of clinicians and HSE management last week, who met to consider the implications of the ruling in the case.
Ruth Morrisey, a terminally ill woman who had her smear test results misread, was awarded €2.1m in the High Court last week.
The Irish Times reports that there is a serious concern that the ruling could double the €30m running cost of the cervical check programme, based on the litigation costs arising from additional cases.
The main concern of among practitioners relates to the judge's declaration that screeners must have "absolute confidence" that there are no abnormalities on a slide before giving it the all clear.
There is a fear this would result in more patients being referred for additional unnecessary tests and procedures being carried out on patients that don't have cancer.