CervicalCheck tribunal cost €2.5m to establish and operate for five claims

Minister expects additional applications as deadline extended for up to a year

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that the State Claims Agency has advised that additional plaintiffs ‘have made formal requests to transfer their claims to the tribunal from the courts and that more claimants have expressed interest’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that the State Claims Agency has advised that additional plaintiffs ‘have made formal requests to transfer their claims to the tribunal from the courts and that more claimants have expressed interest’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

The CervicalCheck tribunal has cost €2.5 million to establish and operate but has only received five claims, the Dáil has heard.

The figures emerged during debate on legislation to extend the deadline for the receipt of claims beyond July 26th, initially for six months with an option to extend it by a further six months to July 26th of next year.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said that “€2.5 million has been spent for five cases and I do not believe there will be many more”. He said many women were being advised not to participate and “it’s overstating it to say that there will” be many more claims.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said, however, that the State Claims Agency has advised that additional plaintiffs “have made formal requests to transfer their claims to the tribunal from the courts and that more claimants have expressed interest”.

“I am advised that the tribunal and the 221+ support group are getting queries also, so it is expected that the tribunal will ultimately deal with more claims,” he said.

Mr Donnelly added that the tribunal had agreed to his request that its “premises will be made available to women who are eligible for the tribunal for the hearing of their claims even if they choose to remain in the High Court”.

He said “the tribunal’s premises have been designed with privacy in mind, so they are not suitable for public hearings”.

The tribunal was established following a report by Mr Justice Charles Meenan which cited an urgent need for an alternative to court proceedings because many of the women concerned were seriously ill.

The controversy arose following a delay in informing women of an audit which revised their earlier negative smear tests.

Mr Donnelly had been in discussions with the campaign group 221+ on the tribunal but talks stalled over assurances the group sought on a statute of limitations and the ability of women to return to the tribunal if their cancer recurred.

“We would very much have liked to accommodate all these requests. Unfortunately, some of them were not possible to deliver because of clear legal advice laid out by the Attorney General.”

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Mr Donnelly acknowledged “the group’s disappointment that we were not able to allow for recurrence, for example”, but they had facilitated ongoing support for the 221+ group, and for women and families affected.

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane said the fundamental question is why the deadline is being extended “rather than deal with the substantive and genuine reasons most of these women have not made claims, we will simply extend the period during which they may make a claim.”

He said unless the campaign group’s issues were dealt with “we’re not really making any changes at all”.

His party colleague Sorca Clarke said the limitation period for taking a case should not apply to the women “because time is not on their side”.

Ms Clarke said “there is no closing date for sickness and there is no closing date for the worry that the women, their families and children are experiencing”.

Fianna Fail TD Cathal Crowe stressed that with or without tribunals 6,000 women attend CervicalCheck every year and “we must do everything we can to ensure it functions well” and is fully resourced to detect cervical cancer early to “allow women to get proper and effective treatment so that they are not left in a battle for their life”.

Social Democrats joint leader Róisín Shortall said she fully recognised the legal difficulties involved but believed that further work could have been done to reach an understanding with the 221+ group.

Ms Shortall added that the “best tribute we can pay to those women” is to ensure the processing of smear tests is done “within our own public healthcare system” and to ensure there is “full mandatory open disclosure”.