CervicalCheck report will be published when affected women have results, Taoiseach says

Exhanges in the Dáil following Irish Times report on screening programme review

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar  has said a report into the CervicalCheck screening service will not be published until  women involved in the review have been informed of their results. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said a report into the CervicalCheck screening service will not be published until women involved in the review have been informed of their results. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The report of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists into the CervicalCheck screening service will not be published until all the women involved in the review have been informed of their results, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil.

He said it was agreed with patient advocates that the report would only be made available when each of the more than 1,000 women whose smear tests were reviewed had had a meeting or been informed in writing about their results.

He said that “I do really hope” that with this second audit of CervicalCheck “we will all handle it better this time”.

He was responding in the Dáil to Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly, who called for the report to be published following revelations in The Irish Times about the review.

The Irish Times reported that a large number of previously missed abnormalities have been uncovered by the review of smear tests carried out by the CervicalCheck cancer screening programme over a period of 10 years.

A controversy erupted over the cervical cancer screening programme last year when it emerged that more than 220 women with cervical cancer were not informed that an audit had been carried out on their CervicalCheck tests which found there had been false negatives.

In the Dáil on Tuesday, Ms O’Reilly said there was “shock and frustration” about the media report. The college was supposed to report more than a year ago but has been dogged by difficulties.

The Dublin Fingal TD also expressed concern that the first the women affected were hearing about the review was in the paper on Tuesday morning.

Ms O’Reilly said that “possibly hundreds” of women were affected by the review, which found hundreds of “discordant” results after re-examining the slides of more than 1,000 women who had been tested for cervical cancer under CervicalCheck, and were incorrectly given the all-clear.

‘Difficult to read’

The Sinn Féin spokeswoman said that the family of Fiona Prendergast, who died of cervical cancer in 2015, had been advised of the results in her case and were coming to terms with that, but it was very difficult for her widower and family to read the newspaper report.

Calling on the Taoiseach to speed the process up, she said potentially hundreds of women were waiting for letters “and they read in the paper today that there are possibly hundreds of people affected by this”.

She also called on the Taoiseach to “join with me to ask that the leaking of sections of this report and that drip-feeding of parts of it stop”.

She said that “we have had numerous assurances that this wouldn’t happen again and it has happened”.

Mr Varadkar said: “I absolutely agree with you that we should stop any leaking to the media.”

He said he was not familiar with Ms Prendergast’s case and would not like to comment on it but to offer his condolences to her family.

He also stressed that in every 1,000 cases screened 12 cases would be picked up with abnormalities and roughly eight would be missed.

“Eight [cases] get picked up on subsequent screening or when they [women with cervical cancer] have symptoms,” he said.

“That is how screening works. It is a lost opportunity when those cases are not picked up but [this] is not of itself a failing of the screening programme and not in itself negligence.

“Even the best screening programme in the world had had [a] very high number of false negatives,” he added.