More than 1,500 cervical cancer cases were not audited

Revelation raises prospect hundreds more women could find smear tests were misread

Health Minister Simon Harris has said that a 'potentially considerable number' of cervical cancer cases could not have been subjected to a review of their smear tests. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

More than 1,500 women who developed cervical cancer did not have their cases reviewed by CervicalCheck, it has emerged, as the Government moved towards a commission of inquiry into the controversy.

Minister for Health Simon Harris confirmed “a considerable number” of women with the condition had not been subjected to an audit of their screening history.

The revelation, described by Labour’s Alan Kelly as a “bombshell”, raises the prospect that hundreds more women could find their smear tests were misread.

The Minister has now ordered that audits be carried out in these cases, where possible – leaving open the possibility that reviewers will come to the conclusion that some of these women should also have received an earlier intervention.

To date, it has emerged that 208 women with cervical cancer whose cases were audited should have had an earlier intervention.

Up to now, the official position has been that all of the cases of cervical cancer had been subject to audit by the CervicalCheck screening programme. However, it did not cover all cases notified to the National Cancer Registry.

Magnified image of a cervical cancer cell. More than 1,500 women who developed cervical cancer did not have their cases reviewed by CervicalCheck. File photograph: Getty Images
Magnified image of a cervical cancer cell. More than 1,500 women who developed cervical cancer did not have their cases reviewed by CervicalCheck. File photograph: Getty Images

The Health Service Executive (HSE) tonight confirmed 3,000 women have been diagnosed with cervical cancer over the 10-year period since 2008, and 1,482 of these cases were notified to CervicalCheck and included in this audit. However, it has now emerged 1,518 were not.

Mr Harris said he is now moving towards establishing a commission of investigation to uncover the extent of this controversy. He is expected to discuss this issue with the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the coming days.

Accountability

The issue dominated the meeting of the Cabinet yesterday, where Ministers demanded accountability from the HSE.

While Ministers did not call for the resignation of HSE director-general Tony O’Brien, they insisted members of the public service should be held responsible for failures.

The Cabinet was fully supportive of Mr Harris, who insisted he did not have any prior knowledge of the magnitude of the issue until late last week.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who has previously served as minister for health, also told the meeting he was furious about the decision to withhold information from patients.

He has asked the secretary-general of the Department of Health, Jim Breslin, to examine records within the department to assess whether he had himself been informed about the potential CervicalCheck scandal during his time as the minister.

“As far as he is aware, he was not informed . . . but he is checking to make sure,” his spokesman said.

Members of the Independent Alliance told the Cabinet meeting there should be a review of the decision to outsource smear test results to the US.

Confidentiality clause

Ms Phelan has said she does not believe Mr O’Brien learned about her case last week.

“I don’t believe that for one minute. He’s the director-general of the HSE. I do not see how he could not have known about this before then. I don’t believe that,” she said.

Ms Phelan said she was contacted by the Taoiseach’s press adviser on Tuesday evening asking to arrange a private meeting.“I said yes, I would meet him in principle, but I’m trying to concentrate on my treatment which I have to go to this week and said that I would get back to him,” she said.