Irish cancer screening services are among world’s best, Dáil told
Tánaiste moves to reassure women, saying, ‘BreastCheck has saved lives’
Tánaiste Simon Coveney confirmed the BreastCheck screening programme received 15 solicitors’ letters and was concerned about the impact of legal action. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Tánaiste Simon Coveney has moved to reassure women about the BreastCheck cancer screening programme in wake of fears that legal costs could result in it being shut down.
Mr Coveney said “BreastCheck, as far as we can see, is performing well and has saved lives and will continue to do so with the reviews that are taking place”.
He confirmed that the screening programme received 15 solicitors’ letters and was concerned about the impact of legal action.
But he said “BreastCheck is a screening programme that is extremely valuable and needs to be protected” and if improved if necessary.
He said that in terms of the legal issues, the Taoiseach had set up a group to look at tort law in relation to medical litigation.
BreastCheck is also moving to a policy of open disclosure next year and had informed the Government that the British health service, the NHS, had formally moved to that position last year. Mr Coveney said the State would learn from that.
He pointed out, however, that it was his understanding that “England is the only country in the world that is providing that level of open disclosure linked to all its screening programmes”.
Open disclosure involves informing patients about incidents that have a serious impact on their health.
Mr Coveney also said the Government had asked Dr Gabriel Scally, who is conducting the scoping inquiry into the CervicalCheck controversy, “to look at our screening programmes generally as well as CervicalCheck”.
He said that was being done to “ensure that we correct wrongs that have happened in the past in relation to CervicalCheck and information flow that should happen that didn’t, and to ensure that women have information available to them that they are entitled to”.
The Tánaiste said it was important to state that by international standards there were very high uptakes for both CervicalCheck and BreastCheck, with “80 per cent of women having used CervicalCheck and 74 per cent participating in BreastCheck”.
Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary said BreastCheck was one of the top two screening programmes in the world and people could be assured of its effectiveness.
But he said the Government needed to give more information to the public generally, “what they do and what their limitations are”.
He said “the information may help resolve some of the legal confusion that is happening”.
And he called on the Tánaiste to “give a guarantee that there are no other underlying issues in other screening programmes that “that you’re not going to be caught out again”.
The Tánaiste told him BreastCheck was working on an open disclosure policy to be introduced next year
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the CervicalCheck scandal showed the Government needed to go back to basics in terms of information.
He said the controversy had given lessons on the science of screening and its limits. “We’ve also seen the human side and how false negative results have led to family tragedies.
“It would be an appalling outcome if people stopped believed in the efficacy of screening.”
He said that screening and vaccination programmes had been “incredibly important in reducing serious illness and premature death. They were imperfect tools but if properly funded and implemented were tools that undoubtedly saved many lives”.
Citing the importance of vaccination programmes to eliminate childhood diseases and the potential to eliminate cervical cancer, he said there needed to be full confidence in screening programmes and the extension of the HPV vaccine to boys in a bid to improve vaccination uptake.
The Tánaiste said they were “absolutely committed to fully exposing what happened” in relation to the CervicalCheck controversy, “who made the decisions and when” and to provide full accountability.
“And on the back of that we build confidence in the screening programme” again, he said.
He added that “people should listen to their doctor than potentially what they read on social medial in relation to the impacts of vaccinations”.