Two patient representatives on a Government panel in charge of overseeing changes to screening in the wake of the CervicalCheck scandal have denounced its lack of progress in an emotional plea for action.
Lorraine Walsh, who lost her chance to have children over a missed 2011 cancer warning, and father-of-two Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died of cancer last year after two incorrect smear tests, have demanded new processes to restore trust and confidence in the CervicalCheck's screening programme.
Irene Teap and Ms Walsh are two of the 221 women who, on look-back audits after being diagnosed with cancer, were found to have received incorrect smear tests that could have resulted in different outcomes.
Scores of women received false test results but were only told about them after Limerick women Vicky Phelan settled a High Court action for €2.5 million in April over a 2011 test that missed her cancer.
Frustrated by the slow progress and the absence of plans to overhaul the screening, Mr Teap and Ms Walsh read a joint statement to a meeting of the Department of Health’s steering committee on Thursday, calling for specific actions to be taken by set deadlines so the programme can “go back to saving lives”.
Speaking publicly for the first time, the Galway woman (40) said she decided to go public so she was “not just a number” in the CervicalCheck saga.
She is now clear of cancer after being diagnosed in 2012 but the treatment for her cancer robbed her of a chance of becoming pregnant.
“I wanted people to see that there are other women affected. We are not just numbers; we are not just ‘limitations of the screening’, as we have been told,” she told The Irish Times. “These are real lives and real people being torn apart. Stephen longs for the partner that I still have and I long for the boys that he has. That is the reality but it is very difficult.”
Ms Walsh and Mr Teap (from Cork) were appointed to the steering committee set up by Minister for Health Simon Harris to co-ordinate changes to issues identified in the wake of the controversy and to oversee the implementation of recommendations made by the Government scoping inquiry led by Dr Gabriel Scally.
The pair are pushing for the minutes of the steering committee meetings to be published every week.
“I don’t want to hear excuses any more, so that’s why each time I am asking for specifics, for project plans, for actions, for timelines, for who is responsible and where we are in the process,” said Ms Walsh.
The call follows a weeks-long delay in the Health Service Executive’s handover of searchable records to Dr Scally, CervicalCheck’s slow release of medical records to the affected women, and the delay to the start of a review of about 3,000 smear test slides, despite a Government pledge it would be completed by the end of May.
The Department of Health said on Friday night that the committee, which has met in each of the last three weeks, would provide regular updates to Mr Harris, which he intends to publish along with "relevant meeting documents".
Mr Teap and Ms Walsh would ensure the patient’s voice is “at the centre of the committee’s work”, the department said.
The committee was established to provide assurance on “the implementation of key decisions taken by the Government in relation to CervicalCheck” and to work to address “strategic long-term issues to ensure a sustainable and effective cervical screening programme in the interests of women’s health”.
As the committee’s work proceeds, the focus will be “on making timely and clear progress on all aspects of the terms of reference”, the department said.