CervicalCheck 10-year timeline
From setting up a screening programme in 2008 to aftermath of Vicky Phelan case
HSE director general Tony O’Brien: there are 10 active legal claims in relation to the CervicalCheck audit controversy. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
2008: CervicalCheck – a national cervical screening programme is set up as “a quality-assured, organised and population-based screening programme” to provide free cervical screening to women aged 25 to 60. The CervicalCheck women’s charter says the service is “committed to providing a safe and reliable service to women”.
The National Cancer Screening Service awards the contract to analyse 300,000 Irish smear tests a year to US firm Quest Diagnostics.
2010: Clinical Pathology Laboratories, based in Austin, Texas, wins the contract to provide laboratory services for CervicalCheck. Two laboratories in Ireland also have similar contracts.
2011: Limerick woman Vicky Phelan attends CervicalCheck for a routine smear test and wrongly receives the all-clear.
2014: An audit of smear tests reveals to health service professionals that Ms Phelan had wrongly received the all-clear, but she is not told about it.
Having sought medical assistance on her own initiative, Ms Phelan is diagnosed with cervical cancer. She undergoes an aggressive form of radiation and chemotherapy and eventually gets the all-clear.
2017: Ms Phelan had been cancer-free for almost three years until a routine scan in November reveals the cancer is back.
September 2017: Ms Phelan learns that her cancer was missed through a chance reading of her medical file while waiting for an appointment.
Wednesday, April 25th, 2018: Ms Phelan settles a High Court action against Clinical Pathology Laboratories for €2.5 million with no admission of liability. The money will allow her trial new drugs and may extend her life, she says.
Friday, April 27th: Minister for Health Simon Harris says he does not have confidence in the management of the CervicalCheck programme. The HSE says it now knows a review was warranted in 442 cervical smear cases and more than 200 cervical smear results should have resulted in earlier intervention.
It was revealed that Dr Gráinne Flannelly, the clinical director of CervicalCheck, told Limerick gynaecologist Dr Kevin Hickey in a July 2017 email that several women should not be told about false negative tests discovered in an audit and that the doctor should “simply file” the audited test results in the patients’ medical files.
Saturday, April 28th: A helpline opens for concerned women. By 1.30pm it receives more than 600 calls. More than 2,000 people contact the Health Service Executive’s CervicalCheck programme over the weekend.
Gráinne Flannelly steps aside.
Former master of the Rotunda Hospital Sam Coulter-Smith says he warned the government a decade ago against testing being moved to private companies overseas, because he was worried that resulting problems would mean cancer cases being missed.
Monday, April 30th: David Gibbons, the former chair of the cytology/histology group within the quality assurance committee of the National Cervical Screening Programme, says he had resigned over outsourcing the analysis of smear tests to the US. Dr Gibbons says he resigned after his warnings were ignored. He says figures from the US showed a one-third lower detection rate of high-grade dysplasias (pre-cancerous cells) compared to Irish labs, with a “mismatch” of systems because Ireland tests for cervical cancer every three years while the US tests smear samples annually. He said he made his concern known to HSE chief Tony O’Brien.
Tuesday, May 1st: Simon Harris tells the Dáil an additional 1,500 women who have cervical cancer did not have their earlier negative smears rechecked. He also suggests the Government may set up a commission of investigation into the affair.
Wednesday, May 2nd: HSE chief Tony O’Brien reveals there are 10 active legal claims in relation to the CervicalCheck audit controversy. Legal proceedings have commenced in six cases.