CervicalCheck performance similar to UK programmes, review finds

Hundreds of women told that review of their slides has produced a different result

Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

International experts say the performance of the CervicalCheck programme is “broadly in line” with that of cervical cancer screening programmes in the UK, according to an update provided to TDs.

The provisional findings of the review by a panel of experts led by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists was provided on Friday to members of the Oireachtas health committee, which is expected to hold hearings on the review next month.

The college was tasked last year with re-examining the smear tests of over 1,000 women who had been tested under CervicalCheck and later developed cervical cancer. It has completed individual reports for each of the women and expects to complete the process of communicating these results to the women within the coming days, Department of Health secretary general Jim Breslin told committee members.

It is understood hundreds of women have been told by the college that the review of their individual slides has produced a “discordant” – or divergent – result compared with the original result from CervicalCheck. These women will be entitled to the same supports currently provided to the 221 women who were caught up in the controversy that erupted in 2018.

The college has written to Minister for Health Simon Harris saying that, based on its provisional findings, “the performance characteristics of the CervicalCheck screening programme that fall within the scope of the review appear to be broadly in line with experience in the UK”.

The performance characteristics of the programme relate to its ability to accurately identify women who have cervical cancer, and those who do not.

Verification process

The process of communicating individual college reports to women has been ongoing for the past two months, and was preceded by a “verification process” by the HSE to ensure each report was provided to the right woman, Mr Breslin said. “This was necessary given that slides and records were identified by number only during the analysis undertaken by the college, to protect the privacy of women and next of kin.”

The process has taken “longer than expected”, Mr Breslin admitted.

While the college has completed the aggregate report, he said, this would not be sent to the department until all women had received their individual reports.

The aggregate report will be published in early December, and Opposition health spokespersons will be briefed on its contents on the day of publication. The college assessors are expected to attend committee hearings on the review, scheduled provisionally to take place shortly before Christmas.

CervicalCheck was thrown into crisis in April 2018, when it emerged the results of a previous, more limited review of slides by the screening programme had not been disclosed to affected women.

The college review takes in both the 221 group of women at the centre of last year’s controversy and a separate cohort of women whose cancers were notified to the National Cancer Registry but were not audited by the screening programme.

It was commissioned in May 2018 with the aim of providing a comprehensive overview of the screening history of all women diagnosed with cervical cancer over the past decade.

It was supposed to report over a year ago, but there were delays in setting it up, and one-third of women declined to participate.