The Government needs to consider winding up the CervicalCheck tribunal as it is not meeting the needs of women and their families, campaigners say.
More than €2.5m has been spent setting up and running the tribunal, but just three women have lodged claims, and the body has yet to hear one.
Campaigner Vicky Phelan said she is not “one bit surprised” women and their families are choosing to take High Court cases instead of using the tribunal, which was set up last December.
The 221+ patient support group raised significant concerns and had called for a non-adversarial system before the tribunal was set up, but health minister Stephen Donnelly pressed ahead with its establishment late last year.
“The minister was warned but then again, the State has form here in not meeting the needs of those affected,” Ms Phelan said.
Stephen Teap, a member of the CervicalCheck steering committee, said:
“I would certainly say that the Department of Health now, along with justice, would want to review it.
“At this stage, they would want to review whether it’s worth keeping themselves. It’s not for us to say — it’s for them to review at this stage. We did everything we possibly could.”
Before the tribunal came into force, the 221+ group strongly urged Mr Donnelly to adopt a number of recommendations and asked that the terms of the tribunal be changed to allow applicants to return if they suffer a recurrence of their cancer.
Mr Teap, whose wife Irene died of cervical cancer, said: “We spent weeks and months talking to the minister and the Taoiseach trying to avoid this situation — that’s what we were working for so that they wouldn’t end up in a situation like this and we did warn them.
While just three claims had been made to the tribunal by April 18, the State Claims Agency had received 207 claims women by mid-March regarding the alleged misreading of their smear tests and a further 49 claims had been received from family members.
Of the 256 claims, proceedings have been issued in respect of 190. To date, 31 claims have been concluded.
However, Mr Donnelly said the tribunal remains the “most appropriate” avenue for women and their families.
“The tribunal is the most appropriate venue to hear and determine CervicalCheck claims. It has been specifically designed for that purpose. It is, of course, entirely up to eligible women as to whether or not they use it,” he said, in response to parliamentary questions from Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane.
Mr Donnelly said he had “a significant level of engagement” with the 221+ patient representative group late last year.
“Significant progress was made through this engagement. However, it was not possible to resolve all of the issues raised by the group in the way that they wanted them to be addressed.”