Fewer additional women may be involved in CervicalCheck controversy than thought

Dr Gabriel Scally’s clarification accepts he was mistaken in believing HSE applied a cut-off

Fewer additional women may be caught up in the CervicalCheck controversy than was previously thought after the HSE clarified the criteria it used for determining whether women were affected.

Some 221 women who contracted cervical cancer subsequently had their smear reviewed, and these reviews produced a different result. This was the main criterion used by the HSE to assess the number of women affected.

This number is expected to rise as more women’s slides are reviewed and the outcome is compared to the original result. However, the number of additional cases may be less than previously thought after it emerged that the HSE did not apply a time cut-off to exclude some cases from the group.

Dr Gabriel Scally, the doctor who carried out the scoping inquiry into the controversy, has issued a “clarification” in which he accepts he was mistaken in his report in believing the HSE applied a cut-off.


It had been believed CervicalCheck applied an 18-month cut-off to decide whether women should be included in the “221 group”. So if more than 18 months had passed between a smear test and a woman’s cancer diagnosis, she was included in the group as the management of her case may have been affected.

‘Undoubtedly flawed’

In his report published in October, Dr Scally described the 18-month cut-off as “undoubtedly flawed” and said it was “hard to see the logic for this”. He repeated his criticism at the Oireachtas health committee where he said it varied from the practice in other countries.

“It was basically stating that if the missing of the abnormality occurred 12 months before she was diagnosed with cancer, it would not have made any difference to the final outcome, whereas if it had occurred 20 months before it, it would have,” Dr Karin Denton, a UK scientist who worked with Dr Scally on the scoping inquiry, told the committee.


However, the HSE clarified that it has not applied any cut-off to help decide which women should be included in the group. “It [the 18-month cut-off] was never used to exclude slides nor was it used to determine which clinicians were written to with audit results,” HSE acting director general John Connaghan wrote in a letter to Dr Scally.

Dr Scally has written to the chair of the committee, Dr Michael Harty, and issued a clarification on his website. He said it was “unfortunate” the 18-month figure was relied upon for his report, but it is “welcome news that the situation has been clarified and that our concerns about the adoption of an unsustainable cut-off point were not, in fact, based on the true situation”.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.