CervicalCheck: Only half of women who consulted GPs went for repeat smear test

Laboratories reluctant to test repeat smears because of Ireland’s ‘litigious environment’

Only half of the women who consulted their GPs about a repeat smear test in the CervicalCheck cancer screening controversy went ahead and took a second smear test, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

He said that 112,000 women consulted their GPs about a second test but only 57,800 took a second test and he stressed that the Chief Medical Officer’s advice was followed.

Some 80,000 women are awaiting results as a result of the repeat tests.

And he told the Dáil that because of the “litigious environment in Ireland” laboratories were reluctant to take on additional work.


As the controversy continued over lengthy delays faced by women getting the results of their tests he insisted that Minister for Health Simon Harris had received advice against offering repeat tests to women only after he made the announcement.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said however the former clinical director of the screening programme Dr Gráinne Flannelly had contacted a senior official in the department and the Minister had been informed.

The Minister first insisted it was “significantly after” he made the decision that he got the advice, Mr Martin said. A few days later the then HSE director general asked Mr Harris to walk back from the decision because of impact on testing facilities and results.

Mr Martin said the Cabinet endorsed the decision made by Mr Harris a few days later but he asked if they had been made aware of the concerns in relation to offering such a test and the negative advice.

The Fianna Fáil leader said that the Minister’s story had “shifted and shifted and changed”.

He called for the Government to publish the email Dr Flannelly sent to the Department.

Media requests

Amid opposition heckling Mr Varadkar said he believed it had been released and if not he saw no reason for it not to be published.

Later Mr Martin said he had checked and the Department of Health refused to release that email despite repeated media requests.

Mr Varadkar said “I’ll have to look into it unless there’s a particular reason it can’t be released”.

But he said “I think the contents may have been shared with the Deputy perhaps through a parliamentary question”.

He also said the advice of the CervicalCheck director was received after the Minister’s announcement, though it did arrive on the same day.

Mr Martin called for the Minister to make a comprehensive statement to the Dáil.

The Taoiseach said Mr Harris will appear before the Oireachtas health committee on Wednesday and deal with any outstanding questions on the timeline of events.

He said the priority was to deal with the backlog in test results. He said some women were getting results within four weeks and the average was currently 15 weeks.

“But some women are waiting up to 33 weeks – and that is not acceptable,” Mr Varadkar said.

He added that efforts were underway to find additional laboratories for testing. There was a reluctance to take on additional testing because of the “litigious environment in Ireland”.

But the HSE talks with the laboratories included “guarantees on potential legal actions”.

The Taoiseach said efforts to find more laboratories to help clear the smear test backlog were “the litigious environment in Ireland” and laboratories were reluctant to take on additional work. He said efforts to find new laboratories were continuing with the HSE and talks included guarantees on potential legal actions.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times