Micheál Martin has questioned how “alarm bells” didn’t go off in the Department of Health when they received a letter from a woman waiting on smear test results.
The Fianna Fáil leader has also hit out at Health Minister Simon Harris for not allocating extra staff and resources to CervicalCheck after the initial screening service scandal broke last year.
It comes as the HSE revised the number of women affected by the latest CervicalCheck controversy upwards to 856. An IT glitch at the Quest Diagnostics lab in the US, which checked the slides, has been blamed for resulted in a delay in passing on results to these women and their GPs.
The results of 52 of those women have come back as having tested positive for the HPV virus.
The latest debacle emerged after a woman referred to as ‘Sharon’ wrote to Mr Harris, as she was concerned about a delay in receiving her results. It was only then that the wider computer issue came to light.
Mr Martin said a “crisis of confidence” in the screening programme has now been created as a result of the lack of clarity or certainty around any issue that arises, as well as the drip-feed of information coming from the Department of Health, the HSE, and CervicalCheck.
He said he is very concerned about “how the penny didn’t drop, or how alarm bells didn’t go off once a letter of that kind came in”.
“I think the fact that there was no communication with the women concerned is deeply worrying.”
Mr Martin added: “But I think there is an absence, given what happened in the immediate aftermath of the first outbreak of the crisis, I am not sure that the Government has moved to put in personnel and to beef up CervicalCheck and to give it the resources and the capacity to deal with the issues it now has to deal with — I think that is a big concern.”
A rapid review of the latest issues in the screening system is to be carried out by Dublin City University president Brian MacCraith, who will finish his work by August 2.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid said he was “deeply frustrated and annoyed” by what had happened, but said the review would get “right to the centre” of how such mistakes were made.
The HSE’s chief clinical officer, Dr Colm Henry, said that the IT glitch was “unacceptable and shouldn’t have happened.”
He said the clinical risk to women at the centre of the latest incident is low, but that “first and foremost” it is important to determine if all the women involved have spoken to their GP so it can be determined if they need to be sent on for further investigation.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr Henry also apologised for what had occurred and said: “We need to find out what happened and correct any deficits.”
Patient advocate Lorraine Walsh said there are many questions that still must be answered as to how there was a “complete breakdown” in communication.
Ms Walsh said she did not accept “that this was an IT glitch”.
Ms Walsh urged women to be vigilant and to follow up on tests themselves.
“Be vigilant, follow up, get clarity,” she said.
“You can’t assume anything. Follow up with your GP.
“If you don’t have the information from your GP, contact CervicalCheck or if you’re not getting traction, contact the 221 [Plus] group.”