HSE to carry out CervicalCheck audit as many women not participating in review

Health body says it needed to act because of low consent rate to review by UK college

The HSE is to carry out a new audit of the woman affected by the CevicalCheck controversy despite the Government having commissioned a wider review by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK.

The decision to audit the clinical status of the women is prompted by the low consent rate among the 221-plus group caught up in the controversy to participation in the RCOG review, the Oireachtas health committee has heard.

With 31 per of these women consenting to participation in the UK review, it was clear to the HSE that it needed to “do something ourselves”, HSE national director Damien McCallion told the committee.

A healthcare audit team has been assembled to do this work and hopes to complete it before Christmas, he said. The reason the HSE had not done this work up to now was because it understood the RCOG review would deal with it.


The RCOG review, which is not due to finish until next spring, is more comprehensive piece of work examining 1,600 cases, and looking at the original slides, colposcopies and the treatment options offered to the women. Almost 60 per cent of those who have replied from this wide group have consented.

‘Big problem’

Labour health spokesman Alan Kelly said the low consent rate was a "big problem" for the HSE and "it wasn't good" enough that the women's smears had not been audited up to now.

He said it was not acceptable that the committee had been waiting for months for a breakdown of the different testing laboratories involved in reading the women’s slides.

Mr McCallion said the provision of this information had proved challenging because CervicalCheck had no cytopathologist and many of the women had multiple smears over time, read by different labs.

The HSE had twice tried to recruit a cytopathologist to the programme but was unsuccessful. However, he said a qualified person overseas had been sourced to do this work, which should be completed by Christmas.

After the controversy erupted last April when Vicky Phelan settled her High Court case over the reading of her smear tests, Minister for Health Simon Harris offered free repeat smear tests to any women with concerns.

Long delays

This has led to long delays for women seeking tests, the committee heard, with waits of up to 76 days.

Those waiting include women due a routine three-yearly smear and more urgent cases where a woman has been referred back to the programme after six months, Mr McCallion told Mr Kelly.

Women requiring a colposcopy had been successfully prioritised, but it was “not straightforward” to separate the six-month cases for the three-yearly ones.

Of the 221 women, two did not have cancer and two had cancers other than cervical cancer, he said.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

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