Cervical screening controversy explained

What are the latest political developments around the CervicalCheck programme?

So, what is happening? A couple of things were announced yesterday. The first is that women adversely affected by this controversy will be entitled to redress. The scheme has yet to be worked out and will only be made available when the facts of the situation have emerged.

The second is that a team of expert international cytopathologists are to carry out a clinical review of the smears of all the women who were diagnosed with cancer in the past 10 years.

There is also a change in the new test for cervical cancer. Women will not have to wait three years for a routine appointment. It will be available when they want it.

Lastly, the Government has confirmed it is moving towards a commission of inquiry into the controversy.

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Why a commission of inquiry? The Government committed earlier this week to the establishment of a statutory investigation. It had asked the Health Information and Quality Authority to examine the issue. However, Minister for Health Simon Harris has now confirmed it favours a more thorough inquiry as a Hiqa investigation has limitations.

Will that not take years and cost a lot of money? Here is where the difficulty lies. The women involved cannot afford to wait for years to know the outcome of this investigation.

Therefore the Government will examine a modular commission, ensuring conclusions are released as soon as they are reached.

An inquiry will cost a significant amount of money. To date, this country has spent over €500 million on such investigations.

What about the planned cytology review? It emerged on Tuesday that a significant number of women did not have their cases examined as part of the clinical audit. The exact figures are not yet known but Taoiseach Leo Varadkar estimates it is between 2,000 and 3,000.

The review will be led by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which will try to identify the genuine false negatives and those cases which should have been reported differently. This is expected to be completed by the end of May.

This is separate to the independent clinical review, which will be offered to each of the 208 women who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer and are now learning they should have received an earlier intervention.