CervicalCheck sends letter with incorrect test results to 400 women

Patients waiting six months told they are HPV negative when actually HPV positive

Approximately 400 women whose cervical smear test results were delayed for months in the latest cancer screening controversy, have this week received a letter with incorrect information about those results.

This latest mistake has emerged in the wake of the publication of the MacCraith report on the 4,088 women affected by an IT failure and human error.The report by DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith found that in the case of 873 women who had a repeat HPV test, no results were sent to them or to their GP for over six months and, in the remaining cases, GPs were informed but not the women concerned.

The HSE on Wednesday confirmed that almost half of the 873 women received a letter in the last week from CervicalCheck that “contained an inaccuracy”.

The newest error in the ongoing cancer saga emerged after a woman contacted The Irish Times following publication of the MacCraith report.

Preferring to identify herself only as Ms Scullion, she said she was one of the 873 women who had not received any results of a repeat test for HPV, the virus that can cause cancer.

She received a letter on August 6th, but dated August 1st which told her: “Please be assured that as expected your HPV re-test result is unchanged from your original smear test of the above date (July 2018) and remains HPV negative.”

Ms Scullion said she is HPV positive, known from a previous testing and investigation.

‘Mail merge’

She said the letter appeared to be a “mail merge”, an automated letter to multiple recipients, and “looks like an administrative error”.

She contacted CervicalCheck who “apologised profusely” and confirmed it as an administrative error. Ms Scullion said she will attend for her next test at the end of the year.

But she expressed concern that “a letter that is meant to put your mind at rest, makes you worry even more” and said this new error might be illustrative of what Prof MacCraith found, that “too few people within CervicalCheck are managing too many projects”.

Ms Scullion said that “I just couldn’t believe it. It’s just embarrassing that there is yet another mistake and you start wondering what else will happen.”

The MacCraith report urged the HSE to move quickly to ensure CervicalCheck becomes a well-structured, strongly-led organisation with good management practice and an active culture of risk management.

In a statement, the HSE said in the letters sent out, “we also confirmed that the result of these women’s HPV re-test was unchanged ‘and remains HPV negative’. However, for some women, this should have read ‘and remains HPV positive’. This was an error on our part and we are very sorry for any confusion it may have caused.”

Further testing

The HSE stressed that at the time of the original HPV-positive result, the women’s GPs would have recommended further testing.

“We are nonetheless again very sorry for any confusion or distress this error may have caused. We will be writing to women involved, as a matter of priority, to correct this error. We have already communicated directly with a small number of women who have contacted CervicalCheck on this issue.”

The revelation came as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris met cervical cancer campaigners about a formal State apology to the women and families affected by the ongoing controversy.

Mr Varadkar is expected to make a formal apology in the Dáil when it resumes in the autumn. Lorraine Walsh, whose test results were misdiagnosed, and Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene Teap died of cervical cancer, represent the 221-plus patient group and discussed all aspects of the State's role in the CervicalCheck controversy with Mr Varadkar and Mr Harris.

The HSE has said any woman with concerns could contact clientservices@cervicalcheck.ie or phone 01-8659392.