Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has promised an inquiry into the country’s smear test scandal
The HSE has said that there have been 17 deaths and that 208 women have been affected by the CervicalCheck controversy. The cause of death of the 17 women is not yet known. Of those affected, 162 were not informed that a review had been conducted of their outcome.
At a media briefing on Monday, the HSE acknowledged that it was unacceptable that patients had not been informed of the outcome. All of those affected are due to be contacted this week.
Mr Varadkar said he was “filled with sadness” over the story of mum-of-two Vicky Phelan, which highlighted the scandal, and that he was “very angry”.
Ms Phelan, (pictured) who is terminally ill, settled a case with a US lab for €2.5m after she was wrongly told she had no abnormality in a 2011 smear. Mr Varadkar confirmed that an inquiry into the CervicalCheck programme, which would most likely be led by the Health and Information Authority (HIQA), will take place to find out the full details. He said that the women should have been informed earlier of the audits and that there were “appalling communications failures”.
But he was also keen to encourage women to continue to be tested, adding that “Cancer screening does work.”
“We’ll do everything we can to restore confidence in these programmes,” Mr Varadkar said.
The Government is expected discuss the possibility of making compensation payments to the women in question. Ms Phelan revealed on the Ray D’Arcy Show on RTÉ 1 that Health Minster Simon Harris called her personally to apologise.
“As soon as I heard the voice I knew who it was and he said ‘hi Vicky, it is Simon Harris here’,” said Ms Phelan. “’I just wanted to call you personally to apologise for what has happened to you but he also wanted to thank me for still encouraging women to go for smears and for promoting the Cervical screening programme’ he said.
“I said to him basically look, what has happened to me is awful. I do believe in the programme, cervical smears do save women’s lives and what I don’t want to happen is more women diagnosed with cervical cancer and I thought it was important that I come out and say that because I think people would listen to me rather than the HSE at the moment.”
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has requested that the briefing note advising Mr Harris of Ms Phelan’s case be made public. Mr Martin has questioned whether Mr Harris fully appreciated the “enormity” of the scandal, when he first learnt of Ms Phelan’s court action on April 16.
“Those in authority must have known this was going to become public knowledge,” said Mr Martin, himself a former health minister.
Mr Martin has also called the figures for the number of women who were not told of a delayed cancer diagnosis “quite shocking and appalling”.
He went on to praise Ms Phelan for her “doggedness and determination” in bringing the full scale of the scandal to light. The controversy has already promoted one high profile resignation. Former Clinical Director of CervicalCheck, Dr Gráinne Flannelly stood down from her position on Saturday night.
She said: “I am sorry that recent events caused distress and worry to women. I have decided to step aside to allow the Programme to continue its important work.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of the doctors, nurses and programme staff of CervicalCheck for their continued hard work and commitment towards delivering a first-class service for the women of Ireland.”