CervicalCheck scoping inquiry set to miss June deadline

Chairman of investigation makes recommendations to Minister for Health

  Chairman of the scoping investigation into the CervicalCheck controversy Dr Gabriel Scally. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Chairman of the scoping investigation into the CervicalCheck controversy Dr Gabriel Scally. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

An inquiry into the CervicalCheck controversy will not meet its end of June deadline, The Irish Times understands.

Minister for Health Simon Harris and secretary general of the Department of Health Jim Breslin yesterday met the chairman of the scoping investigation Dr Gabriel Scally, who advised them of the progress he has made into assessing why women with cervical cancer were not informed of the outcome of a review into their cases.

His progress report will be considered at Cabinet today and published after the meeting. Dr Scally was due to complete his report at the end of the month when he was to recommend if a commission of investigation is necessary.

Dr Scally is understood to have made a number of recommendations to be implemented immediately by Mr Harris

However, it is understood it is delayed because Dr Scally has not spoken to the majority of people involved. He wishes them to come forward on a voluntary basis, rather than being compelled to participate.

The inquiry requested those affected to make contact but it is believed fewer than 30 people have been in touch.

Individuals affected

Dr Scally is now examining how he can make contact with all of the 209 individuals affected by the end of the month. He may hold a number of meetings across the country.

This will be the focus for the second phase of his report, it is believed, but will lead to a delay in his findings being issued.

Dr Scally is understood to have made a number of recommendations to be implemented immediately by Mr Harris.

These are understood to include reforms to the information women receive when accessing smear tests, including the limitations of the testing. Dr Scally examined the practice in other countries and has made a number of proposals for change.

The terms of reference for the inquiry include examining the level of knowledge within the Health Service Executive about the policy of non-disclosure and why patient information was withheld from them.

It also examined the information provided to women using the CervicalCheck service and why the policy of open disclosure was not implemented and the tendering, contracting, operation, conflict of interest arrangements, performance information and performance management.

Controversy

The controversy came to light after terminally-ill Limerick woman Vicky Phelan settled a High Court action last month after her cancer was missed in a smear test three years before she was diagnosed.

The missed smear test was only discovered in 2014 after her diagnosis but she was not told until 2017. A follow-up HSE investigation found that 209 women who were diagnosed with cervical cancer were not told about subsequent audits showing past smear tests could have provided a different outcome.