Agreement signed to move on from ‘painful past’ around CervicalCheck

Memo acknowledges improvements made to cervical cancer screening since 2018 controversy

An agreement to move forward from the “painful past” around cervical screening has been signed by survivors of the CervicalCheck controversy, the Department of Health and cancer screening representatives.

The agreement aimed at restoring trust between women affected by the 2018 controversy and the screening community was recommended by Dr Gabriel Scally in his report on the issue.

Members of 221+ Patient Support Group, representing several hundred women affected by the controversy, were briefed last weekend on the launch of the process to facilitate restoration of trust meetings “for those impacted by CervicalCheck who wish to go that route”, it said on Wednesday.

The restoration of the trust process was first presented to 221+ more than two years ago, and a facilitator was appointed by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to manage the process. An initial set of proposals was rejected by the group as being insufficiently strong in recognising past harms.


“In raising that concern, 221+ was reflecting the views of members that the continuous attempts to reframe or overwrite the past had to be addressed before there could be trust in a conversation about the future,” the group said in a statement.

CervicalCheck became mired in controversy in 2018 after it emerged the service had failed to tell women about an audit of past smear test results. The existence of the audit was disclosed for the first time in a case taken by Vicky Phelan. Ms Phelan, who settled a case against a US screening lab over the reading of her cervical screening smears in April 2018, died last year.

Almost 400 women have taken cases relating to CervicalCheck smears since then, while at least 25 have had claims processed through a non-adversarial tribunal set up by Government.

“It took longer than we expected, but we were determined that it was worth spending time to get this right and that there was no value in getting a lesser outcome irrespective of the time taken,” 221+ manager Ceara Martyn said of the newly-agreed process.

“We now have a baseline that every member can refer to – a standard to guide any conversation that we might want to have, with those involved in our care, as an individual or as a group, privately or in public.”

Under the agreed memorandum, 221+, the department, the National Screening Service and CervicalCheck say they will work through a “future-focused, sensitive and empathetic lens” to restore the trust of those affected by the events of 2018.

“We recognise the painful past and share a vision of the future. We value the importance of screening for all women in Ireland now and into the future.”

The memo acknowledges the “huge commitment” to delivering on Dr Scally’s recommendations and the improvements in screening policy and increased focus on women’s health since 2018.

“We have reflected on and discussed the past through its multiple lenses and we are each committed to moving forward from a period of crisis to a stable future of collaboration. As we move towards the future, we remain committed to engaging with each other in a respectful way under the principle that there is good intent from all involved.”

“CervicalCheck is sorry for the harm that was caused to women and their families in the past. Each of us acknowledge all that has happened, all that has been achieved, all that we have done and we hope that our work together will lead others to follow.

“We are all, as patients, public representatives and healthcare professionals, working towards the elimination of cervical cancer and we recognise that this is a collaborative effort between patients and professionals.

“The effectiveness that screening has in leading to a reduction in cervical cancer and deaths from cervical cancer is valued by us all. It is our wish that every woman and her family who find themselves impacted by cervical cancer will experience compassion, understanding and respect.”

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times